Montepulciano Wine: Undiscovered Gem of the Adriatic

Montepulciano Wine: Undiscovered Gem of the Adriatic

Montepulciano (“mon-ta-pull-channo”) is medium-bodied red wine grape from Italy and one of the most famous wines in the country, earning its reputation as an easy red wine that goes well with pasta and pizza. It’s a value wine that can be had for as little as $8 per bottle, but don’t overlook this Italian staple based on price alone. If you’re looking for a red wine that exudes complexity but won’t break the bank, Montepulciano wine is a perfect choice.

Cheap wines that exude a worldly sophistication are in vogue. If that nuance describes you (don’t be ashamed, there’s more of us out there than you think), Montepulciano is where it’s at. There’s no shortage of bargain wines out there, but cheap alone is no bargain at all. What the world needs is a bargain wine hero that respects a meager pocket book yet satisfies the palate and piques intrigue.

Montepulciano, not to be confused with …

Montepulciano is arguably one of the most confusing of Italian wine nouns, as it can refer to either a grape or a place. Montepulciano wine is often confused with Vino Nobile de Montepulciano (translated “the noble wine of Montepulciano), a wine region in Tuscany known for its upscale Chianti-like wine. However, VNdM is not made from Montepulciano grapes.

The Montepulciano grape has nothing to do with the distant town in Tuscany that shares its name. Montepulciano is grown primarily in Abruzzo on the Adriatic. Montepulciano d’Abruzzo sells for under $12 in the U.S., and a good bottle can be had for less than ten. Montepulciano’s affordability translates into low prestige on the Italian DOC hierarchy. But this overlooked wine from Abruzzo deserves a place at the table along with any wine from Tuscany.

What does Montepulciano taste like?

Montepulciano is unapologetically dry, yet bears enough soft fruits to be drinkable young. But it’s also tannic, enough so to deliver a sharp and energetic edge. It pairs naturally with anything that sports tomato sauce, and is as versatile as Barbera wine.

Montepulciano Flavors

  • Plum
  • Sour cherry
  • Oregano
  • Boysenberry
  • Tar

Montepulciano Taste Profile

  • Medium-high bodied
  • Middle-of-the-road fruit
  • Medium-high tannin
  • Medium-high acidity
  • Average alcohol (around 13 percent ABV)

Where does Montepulciano grow?

Montepulciano is the second most planted grape in Italy, right behind Sangiovese. The overwhelming majority of the world’s 86,000 acres are grown in Italy.

The Montepulciano wine market is dominated by large cooperatives, most of which produce cheap, underwhelming wine. But like much of Italy, these historically inexpensive wines are reinventing themselves without betraying their reputation as value wines.

Montepulciano d’Abruzzo was declared a DOC (Denominazione di origine controllata) in 1968, with an additional guaranteed designation of origin granted to the wines produced around Teramo. Teramo, situated between the towering Apennines Mountains and the Adriatic Sea, enjoys a climate perfect for viticulture. The salubrious climate combined with the region’s two millennia of wine making experience produces some of Italy’s best rustic wines, especially when combined with Mediterranean comfort foods.

Wine and Pizza pairings pairing
What should I eat with Montepulciano wine?

Montepulciano is a great pizza wine. The punchy tannins and acidity transcend the bite of red sauce and spicy meats. But don’t stop at pizza! Montepulciano wine is a consummate food companion thanks to its natural acidity. Montepulciano’s pronounced notes of tar, tobacco, and oregano require a little finesse when pairing with food, and are most agreeable with rich and savory foods.

For those trying a Keto diet or a Paleo diet, Montepulciano is the perfect wine choice thanks to its low carb-count. The wine will go perfectly alongside strong red meats like beef but also complements chicken and lamb.

Speaking of chicken … if you want to commit gastronomical sacrilege, try aged Montepulciano with KFC chicken. The mix of herbs and spices from the Colonel are tastefully dissolved in the similar flavors of the wine.

Montepulciano begs for strong meats like a brisket. It also pairs nicely with strong vegetables. As a rule of thumb, if it’s dripping in fat, it goes with Montepulciano.

Meats

  • Roasted pork
  • Burgers topped with mushroom
  • Beef brisket
  • Beef bolognese
  • Fried chicken
  • Tacos
  • Filipino beef Adobo
  • Goat
  • Meaty pizza
  • Meatloaf
  • Shepherd’s pie

Cheese

  • Baked macaroni and cheese
  • Aged cheddar
  • Asiago
  • Parmesan
  • Pepper Jack

Herbs and Spices

  • Oregano
  • Thyme
  • Sage
  • Rosemary
  • Black pepper
  • Coriander
  • Caraway
  • Cocoa
  • Cumin
  • Coffee
  • Chipotle
  • Balsamic vinegar

Veggies

  • Twice baked potato
  • Collard greens
  • Roasted mushrooms
  • Black bean burgers
  • Wild rice
  • Almost any kind of beans
  • Farro
  • Beets
  • Sunchokes
Wine and Pizza pairings pairing

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

 

Montepulciano DOC wine regions

Montepulciano is grown widely throughout Italy, and its popularity as a decent value wine means it will likely see more planting in the future. Depending on the region and DOC requirements, Montepulciano wine is usually a blend of Montepulciano and other regional or international grape varieties.

Montepulciano wine is one of the most exported DOC wines in Italy. At its core, Montepulciano is dry, soft, and usually consumed young. Wine aged at least two years is labeled as ‘’Reserved’’ or ‘’Riserva” by the winemakers. The best Montepulciano wines are made solely with Montepulciano, and are aged around 4 years.

Abruzzo

  • Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC (85% min)
  • Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Colline Teramane DOCG (90% min)
  • Controguerra Rosso DOC (60% min)

Marche

  • Rosso Conero DOC (85% min)
  • Rosso Piceno DOC (30-70% min)
  • Offida Rosso (85% min)

Molise

  • Biferno DOC (60-70% min)

Puglia

  • San Severo Rosso DOC (70% min)

 

The Montepulciano Duo

Montepulciano is produced in two very distinct ways, each resulting in a unique flavor profile.

Oak-aged

Few would disagree that oak-kissed wines are just flat out better. That’s definitely the case with Montepulciano. Aging four years or more imbues flavors of dark fruits. In oak-aged Montepulciano, expect fruit-forward boysenberry, blackberry, prune, and licorice chased by complex notes of cocoa, vanilla, and coffee. The complex flavor profile of oak-aged Montepulciano wine makes it the most popular Montepulciano variety out there. A good oak-aged Montepulciano wine will cost you $30-$80.

Neutral-aged

Montepulciano is naturally dark, and requires aging to tone down some of its harsher characteristics. For the young wine market, some producers create blends or rosatos (rosé) to shore up its drinkability while young. Young Montepulciano rosés have less contact with the dark skins during fermentation, resulting in wines bursting with red fruit flavors of sour cherry, red plum, raspberry, and cranberry washed down with gentle notes of dried herbs, violet, and earthy tones. A good bottle of neutral Montepulciano wine is yours for $9-$15.

Some Montepulciano wine to try

Montepulciano wine

Carletto Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2017 – $9

Montepulciano wine
Valle Reale Organic Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2017 – $15

Montepulciano wine

Masciarelli Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2016 – $11

Montepulciano wine
Le Terrazze Rosso Conero 2015 – $22

Montepulciano wine
Il Feuduccio Montepulciano D’Abruzzo 2012 – $22