Just don’t confuse the grape variety with the appellation of the same name.
You might confuse Montepulciano, the grape variety that finds its greatest and most well-known expression in Italy’s Abruzzo region, with the appellation of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano — it’s an easy mistake to make! But Montepulciano is a grape variety, and its most familiar incarnation is in the often affordable, generally gulpable Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, though it thrives throughout central and southern Italy. This guide will focus on the Montepulciano grape.
What is Montepulciano Wine?
Montepulciano wine is a typically red wine crafted from the grape variety of the same name, though it also makes excellent rosé. It is most frequently associated with Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, which is grown in Abruzzo, in east-central Italy. There are examples that are meant to age (the Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Riserva from Caroso is a delicious and cellar-worthy example), but most of them are so charming and generous in their youth that there’s generally no need to wait for most bottles to mature for any extended length of time. Delicious red wines produced from the Montepulciano grape variety can also be found in Puglia, Umbria, Lazio, Marche, Tuscany, and Emilia-Romagna. Outside of Italy, Montepulciano does well in Texas and Australia, but the vast majority that you’re likely to find are from Abruzzo.
Where Does Montepulciano Wine Come From?
Most Montepulciano on the American market comes from Abruzzo, in east-central Italy, where the variety thrives. Riserva bottlings can be found, which have been aged for a minimum of two years (nine months of which are in oak), but the most common ones are not labeled Riserva. There is a separate DOC known as Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo, which is reserved for rosé wines produced from a minimum of 85% Montepulciano grapes. These are growing in popularity, but are not nearly as famous or widely available as Montepulciano d’Abruzzo.
In other parts of Italy, Montepulciano plays important supporting or starring roles, as in Rosso Conero from Marche, Biferno from Molise, and Torgiano from Umbria, among many others. Montepulciano is also produced in Texas, particularly the Texas Hill Country AVA, and McLaren Vale, Riverland, and Barossa Valley in Australia.
Why Should You Drink Montepulciano Wine?
Montepulciano tends to produce wines that shine in their youth. Its tannic structure, while occasionally assertive, isn’t usually overwhelming, so it does not tend to require any notably extended period of aging to reach its peak (there are delicious exceptions, however!). It also offers tremendous value: For less than $20, you can easily find a well-made Montepulciano d’Abruzzo that over-delivers for the money.
At the table, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is a go-to for comfort food. Pizza, whether plain or with an assortment of toppings from pepperoni to mushrooms, is a classic pairing partner. Simple pastas work well, too, from alfredo to marinara. (Montepulciano has enough acidity to stand up to the acid of tomatoes with ease.) And sipped with a platter of prosciutto, asiago, parmesan, or mozzarella, or just some good bread and olive oil, it’s a guaranteed home run. Just remember to chill the bottle a bit, which will highlight its freshness.
What Does Montepulciano Taste Like?
Montepulciano d’Abruzzo boasts dark cherry, plum, and brambly berry notes, with balancing acidity and occasionally assertive tannins. With age — and there are some producers that make cellar-worthy bottlings — they take on more savory notes of dried herbs, hints of olives, and leather. Floral notes like violets and very occasionally lavender may also appear. Ultimately, it’s usually the lively fruit and food-friendly tannins that make these wines so widely appealing..
Five Great Montepulciano Wines
There are countless great Montepulciano wines on the market today. These five producers, listed alphabetically, are a perfect way to start exploring all that Montepulciano has to offer.
Now more than 100 years old, Cataldi Madonna produces Trebbiano, Montepulciano, and more. Their 2020 Malandrino Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo sings with wild forest fruit and a bass-note suggestion of nuts, and is tasty both on its own and alongside a great charcuterie platter.
Family-owned since 1853 and now helmed by Chiara Ciavolich, this estate’s Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is crafted from grapes that were planted primarily in the 1960s. The 2017 Divus bottling is relatively easy to find, and its brambly berries, spice, and age-worthiness make it a standout.
Duchman Family Winery
Texas may be a long way from Italy, but you wouldn’t know if from the excellent Montepulciano produced by winemaker Dave Reilly, which tends to lean in the direction of brambly berries and plums cut through with a seam of spice.
Masciarelli Wine Company
This venerable producer crafts an excellent portfolio of wines, and the Marina Cvetic Montepulciano d’Abruzzo bottling is a gem year after year. The grapes are grown in Masciarelli’s best eight vineyard parcels, and up to a year and a half of aging in barriques lends it a uniquely plush texture and aging capability.
The family behind this estate can trace its origins back more than a thousand years. Their Rosso Piceno is only 20% Montepulciano (the rest is Sangiovese), typically ages for four months in French oak, and the charming 2020, full of cherries and hints of flowers, can easily be found for less than $15.