Montepulciano d’Abruzzo: A Wonderful Red Wine from the Region of Abruzzo
by Loren SonkinHeading due east from Rome lays the region of Abruzzo. This is a historically poor region whose people inhabit the hills and mountains so prevalent in the province. The people are proud and independent. They resemble the peoples of Italy’s southern regions in attitude and aptitude. Likewise the food and wine cultures reflect that lack of affluence centered on a hard working community. The hillsides are excellent for viticulture. The most popular red grape is the Montepulciano although many other grapes are grown here most notably Sangiovese. As an aside, there is no relation between the grape and the village of the same name in Tuscany, which is famous for its wine, Vin Nobile di Montepulciano (made from Sangiovese grapes.) White wine (not the subject of this article) is also made here. The Trebbiano grape is the most well known of the white varietals. Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and Trebbiano d’Abruzzo are two of my favorite wines from Italy and wines and deserve more recognition.
Montepulciano d’Abruzzo was designated as a DOC in 1968. It covers most of Abruzzo ranging from Molise in the south, the Marche in the north and inland against the Apennines Mountains. The wines are at least 85% Montepulciano with Sangiovese permitted, but not required, at up to 15%. The Riservas need to be aged a minimum of two years before release, with at least 6 months of that in wood. In 1995 another DOC was created called Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Colline Teramane. This was a carved out subset of the larger zone. The chief differences are that the wines must be at least 90% Montepulciano and the Riservas are aged a minimum of 3 years before release. Unlike other areas of Italy where smaller zones of quality wines were carved from larger ones, this DOC’s wines are not appreciably better (or worse) than the larger zone.
The Montepulciano grape is quite prolific. The Montepulciano grape grows easily in Abruzzo. It is plump with high amounts of juice. In an area this poor, this has been a boon to farmers wishing to take advantage of high yields. Unlike most other varietals, this grape makes nice wine even when produced in large quantities. The grape has a deep purple and ruby color to its juice. It has lower acidity (especially for an Italian varietal) and mild sweeter tannins. The resulting wines tend to be softer and more accessible than Chianti or Nebbiolo for example. Accordingly, the young wines are nice pleasurable reds that go as well with food as without it. Almost all of the wines at the low end of the price spectrum (and many can be found for under $8) are enjoyable. At the same time, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo can age brilliantly especially in the hands of the right producers.
At the top of the list of quality producers is Emidio Pepe. The wines of Edoardo Valentini are a close second to Pepe. Valentini’s wines are usually even more expensive and difficult to locate than Pepe’s. Valentini also makes a Trebbiano d’Abruzzo (the white wine of this region) that is just stunning. There are other producers who make excellent Montepulciano d’Abruzzo’s that can be purchased without breaking the bank. The Masciarelli winery makes a basic Montepulciano d’Abruzzo that is available for under $10. Other producers I have liked include Illuminati, Cataldi Madonna, Faraone, Umani Ronchi and Valle Reale (especially the San Calisto bottling). The fact of the matter is that I have never tasted a poor Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. The grape lends itself to making quality wines at every price point. If you see a bottle in the grocery store, try it. If you want to explore what the heights this grape can reach in the hands of a master producer, pick up a bottle from one of the above named producers. I think you will be happy.
What foods could you serve with these wines? As always, start by looking to the local foods that developed alongside the wines. Abruzzo is known for its pork products and lamb dishes. Both are excellent serving ideas with Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. Hot and spicy peppers are also used heavily in the local cuisine. Pasta in red sauce is ubiquitous, of course. Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is a soft wine, with just a hint of acidity and tannins that make it hard to miss with these or almost anything else at the dinner table.