Did you know there are three Montepulcianos? First, there’s the beautiful medieval hilltop town in Tuscany, Italy. Second, there’s Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, a Tuscan wine named after the hilltop town and made primarily from Sangiovese grapes. Third, there’s Montepulciano d’Abruzzo (also known as Montepulciano), a red wine made from the Montepulciano wine grape grown in the Abruzzo region of Italy along the Adriatic coast.
Of the three, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo (which I’ll call Montepulciano for the rest of the article) gets the least respect and attention, so it will be the subject of this article.
What to Look for in Montepulciano
Here are several good descriptions of the grape and wine:
- Wine Folly: Robust herbal and tobacco-like flavors with grippy tannin.
- clesiwines.com: Exhibits a slightly softer structure and darker color than Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.
- thecuriousappetite.com: When aged, this wine can be deep and inky with tones of blackberries, spice pepper and moderate acidity.
- winesandvines.com: A medium to high vigor red variety that can be made in a range of styles—rosé, lighter-bodied red wine, or full-bodied red wine for aging.
The Good News about This Grape
Montepulciano is the second most planted red grape in Italy (after Sangiovese). While this wine has historically been thought of as a lower class table wine, it’s starting to turn a corner. According to nytimes.com, “This lively, juicy red wine… is evolving and improving, like much of southern Italy, with more and more serious producers taking the lead in seeking higher quality. And these serious producers have raised the bar for everybody.” appellationamerica.com says that, while this grape is often destined for bulk and value wine production, there is an ever-increasing number of winemakers producing quality versions. Wine Folly goes on to say that “There are several producers in Abruzzo that have shown the amazing potential of this grape by producing inky, black-fruit driven, chocolatey wines best enjoyed after 4 or more years of aging.”
Finding This Wine in California
I was recently At CityPlace, the wonderful wine bar in Sunnyvale, and the sommelier brought up the question of why there is no Montepulciano in California. I asked him whether it was because the vines didn’t make their way to California in the late 1800s, when other Italian vines came over. He said he didn’t think that was the case. I did some research to try to figure out why this wine is so hard to find in California. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find any really good information on the topic. I have to assume that the wine is hard to find here because of its bad reputation. Hopefully, the trends I mentioned earlier will help this wine gain a foothold in California.
Wine Folly says that Montepulciano, like other medium-bodied red wines, pairs well with a wide variety of foods due to natural elevated acidity. However, because of this wine’s characteristics, they recommend richer, fattier foods like beef brisket and lamb. winedharma.com adds to the list tomato-based pastas, grilled meats, fatty fish and truffle-based dishes.
Please also visit my article entitled “Pairing Abruzzo Cuisine and Wine.”
If you’ve tasted Montepulciano from California, or have thoughts about Montepulcianos from Italy, please share your experience with us. What did you think of the wine? What did you pair with it? How does it compare to other Italian-origin wines?
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