A Crash Course in a Misunderstood Italian Grape

Photo by Tom Arena

Montepulciano is one of the most planted grapes in Italy, yet a surprising amount of confusion surrounds the variety.

Its name alone is disorienting. While it bears the name of a Tuscan town, it’s not at all tied to wines made there. Instead, Montepulciano’s home is on the eastern side of the Apennines. It takes root in Marche, Molise and northern Puglia, but it’s most ubiquitous in Abruzzo.

Vineyard location is key, as Montepulciano needs a long, temperate growing season. In Abruzzo, the sweet spot is in the foothills of the Apennines, which benefits from brisk air rolling down the mountains and warm breezes coming off the Adriatic Sea. But Montepulciano is grown in all four of the region’s provinces to different results.

Meet Abruzzo's Indigenous Italian Grapes

Most regional production happens in the southern province of Chieti, where the warm, seaside climate typically yields soft, fruity, easy-drinking bottlings, though bolder exceptions exist. Pescara and Teramo, provinces in central and northern Abruzzo, boast more day-to-night temperature variations that lengthen the ripening process, help grapes maintain acidity and contribute to lifted and well-structured wines. They display hallmark notes of ripe cherry alongside crushed herbs and tobacco.

Regardless of origin, bottlings are usually labeled under the regionwide Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC). Its monolithic nature can make it difficult to tell where fruit was grown. To better pinpoint the source, look for single-vineyard wines or small family estates, or seek out the few Denominazioni di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCGs) that guarantee provenance.

Six to Sample

Feudo Antico Riserva; $35. From the Tullum DOCG in Chieti, this is opulent, ripe and hedonistic.

Illuminati Riparosso; $18. This is a great entry-level offering sourced from a family-owned estate in Teramo.

La Valentina Bellovedere Riserva; $41. A structured yet polished single-vineyard wine, this hails from Pescara’s Terre dei Vestini subzone.

Nicodemi Notàri; $23. This is a sturdy yet richly fruited wine from clay-streaked soils in the Colline Teramane DOCG.

Tiberio; $20. From vines more than 50 years old, this is a crisp and crunchy unoaked Montepulciano.

Valle Reale Vigneto di Popoli; $22. Sourced from a mountainous vineyard, this shows delicate and more subtle, herbal nuances.

Published on March 24, 2020
Topics: Wine Basics