Montepulciano Wine: Undiscovered Gem of the Adriatic

While Italy is known for its wine production and diversity, not all wines from the country are recognized globally. Montepulciano wine comes from the region just east of Rome and is one of the most famous wines in the country, earning its reputation as an easy red wine that goes well with pasta and pizza.

While the wine has a domestic reputation of being a relatively cheap table wine, several varieties planted in the region of Abruzzo have shown quite a bit of promise, producing a high-quality red wine with a dark tint and a deliciously sweet note, especially after a bit of aging.

Montepulciano d’Abruzzo was declared a DOC (Denominazione di origine controllata, an Italian abbreviation for the controlled designation of origin) in 1968, with an additional guaranteed designation of origin granted to the wines produced around Teramo. The city of Teramo, which is the capital of the province of the same name, is situated between the Corno Grande (Big Horn), which is the tallest mounting of the Apennines, and the Adriatic Sea, giving it a climate that is perfect for growing grapes and olives. The salubrious climate combined with more than two millennia of experience now produces some of the best wines, especially combined with various Mediterranean comfort foods.

The Regions of Montepulciano Wine

During the last couple of decades, Montepulciano wine gained a reputation as one of the most exported wines in the country that has the controlled designation of origin (DOC). In its core, this wine is dry, soft, and usually consumed young. The wine that has been left to age at least two years is labeled as ‘’Reserved’’ or ‘’Riserva” by the winemakers, but that is less often the case compared to many other wine varieties.

In the words of the prominent Montepulciano winemaker, Stefano Illuminati, while the wine will retain a lot of freshness even with aging, there are not a lot of complex aromas that will form as time passes.

For the wine to be labeled as Montepulciano, there is some blending permitted, with most wines containing up to 15% of Sangiovese, which can give the final product various secondary flavors depending on the region the Sangiovese comes from.

Four regions on the Adriatic coast of Italy produce Montepulciano, all having different styles and names, but all containing this fine grape. Aside from Abruzzo that produces Montepulciano d’Abruzzo (DOC), Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Colline Teramane (DOCG), and Controguerra Rosso (DOC), there is also the region of Marche to the north, going all the way to San Marino, that produces Rosso Conero (DOC), Rosso Piceno (DOC), and Offida Rosso (DOCG), as well as Molise and Apulia to the south that produce Biferno and San Severo Rosso respectfully.

These wines differ quite significantly, which is the result of both the difference in growing temperatures and sunlight exposure, and with the ways, the wine is aged and stored.

Illuminati Vinyard near Montepulciano during winter.

Illuminati Vinyard near Montepulciano during winter. – Courtesy of Stefano Illuminati

Wine Types of Montepulciano

As the wine is renown by both the strong tint and the strong scent of the wine, it is very important to know how was it stored, and how much contact did it have with the skin of the grape. Types of storage separate this wine into those which aged naturally, and those that were kept in oak barrels, usually for longer than two years, and sometimes over four.

Bottle aged Montepulciano

As the wine is usually consumed young and fresh, there are no overwhelming scents, especially when it comes to the varieties that have not had a lot of contact with the skin of the grape. Naturally, aged wine comes both as a half-bodied red wine that has a pleasant violet tone with smooth earthy texture, or even as a rosé wine that has a fresh cherry-like flavor and a lot of fruity tones, without being too sweet. This type of Montepulciano is neither uncommon nor really expensive, being an excellent choice for a variety of diets and budgets as well.

Oak-aged Montepulciano

Once the wine is selected to be stored in oak barrels, it usually means that it is intended for export abroad, as the strong scent and fruity flavors are not as demanded by the Italian market as they are by consumers in the Americas. This way of storing infuses the wine with the full essence of the grape skin, as well as the barrel. From the skin, the wine gets a strong scent of wood fruit (Fruit de Bois) like blackberry, and from the oak itself, it will get a spicy flavor reminiscent of mocha coffee. While this arguably makes for a superior wine, finally with a deep red color, it is also quite a bit more expensive, costing over five times as much as the variety that aged naturally.

Food Pairing

As previously mentioned, Montepulciano wine was originally meant to be a wine that accompanies pizza or pasta, but as it turns out, this pairing is even better with more developed western comfort foods, especially those rich with animal fat. For those that are trying a Keto diet or a Paleo diet, this is the perfect wine choice, as it is very low in acidity and sugar, and complements the decisions made in these diets perfectly. The wine will go perfectly alongside strong red meats like beef but also complements chicken and lamb.

While not the best combination, as that title goes a bit north, both the lighter varieties of Montepulciano and those that are aged go incredibly well with KFC chicken. The mix of herbs and spices from the Colonel are tastefully dissolved in the similar flavors of the wine.

From the Sunny Sea to the Windy City

It is fascinating how the type of wine that has been perfected some two and a half millennia ago has found its perfect match with a dish that is not only less than a century old but would also be considered heresy anywhere in Italy. The Chicago-style deep dish pizza is the perfect partner to Montepulciano wine, as they form a perfect balance of wine that makes the bites lighter and the heavy pizza. This balance means that the combination will never leave you with a stomach ache, nor anywhere near tipsy. It might cost you a few extra pounds though.


Finally, if you are willing to taste a refreshing wine that both has a tradition behind it and goes well with modern trends, Montepulciano wine is very much for you. The flavors are not overwhelming and will suit almost any wine lover, and the food pairing will make it the best choice for young wine enthusiasts who can spare eating a bit more fatty foods.

If you are a lover of fine wine, you will want to try this Adriatic classic, but if you are a fan of western comfort food, this is not only a good choice but probably the best one.