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The Montepulciano Grape

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About Montepulciano

(Synonyms: Cordicso, Cordiscio, Cordisco, Cordisio, Monte Pulciano, Montepulciano Cordesco, Montepulciano di Torre de Passeri, Montepulciano Primatico, Morellone, Premutico, Primaticcio, Primutico, Sangiovese Cardisco, Sangiovese Cordisco, Sangiovetto, Torre dei Passeri, Uva Abruzzese, Uva Abruzzi)


Montepulciano grapes Map showing the Abruzzo region of Italy

Montepulciano—more properly, Montepulciano d'Abruzzo—is a red-wine grape originating in, appropriately enough, the Abruzzo region of Italy, a region that encompasses four provinces, all of which produce Montepulciano d'Abruzzo wines. Italian wine law permits up to a maximum of 15% of Sangiovese to be blended in Montepulciani.

The ultimate origin of the grape is unsure, but a good bet would be Tuscany, and it is thought to possibly be related to Sangiovese (the informing grape of Tuscany). Today, Montepulciano is grown to at least some extent throughout almost all but the most northerly and most southerly parts of Italy, though it is a secondary grape outside its home in the Abruzzo. Gluttons for punishment can review a list of the appellations in which Montepulciano can appear in wines.

Montepulciano makes satisfactory wines at all points on the price spectrum, from eminently drinkable bottles at five dollars (sometimes even less) up to prized gems well into the three-digit price range. We like to quote wine writer Loren Sonkin on this:

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.

Simpler (read "less expensive") Montepulciani are made for early drinking, and so have relatively low tannin levels and (especially for Italian reds) low levels of acid; the bigger ones can bottle-age to their benefit for a decade or two. Typical Montepulciano characteristics are a deep color, rich body, and an earthy, almost "rustic" quality, meaning strongly aromatic of dark fruits (meaning much more of, say, blackberry than of strawberry or even cherry) and with a distinct note of spiciness and perhaps the usual suspects for big-bodied reds, leather and tar. A well-made but inexpensive Montepulciano (not an oxymoron) is one of the best wine buys available.

There are official quality levels of Montepulciani. Basic wines require five months minimum aging; Vecchio bottlings, a step up, require an extra two years of aging on oak. There is also a "Riserva" designation, requiring three years total aging with at least six months on oak. Wines designated "Montepulciano d'Abruzzo Colline Teramane" (a legal appellation) are regarded as especially fine specimens.

Factoid: Montepulciano d'Abruzzo has no connection to the Sangiovese-based wines "Vino Nobile di Montepulciano" or "Rosso di Montepulciano", which are named after the town. There will be a quiz in the morning.

Some Descriptions of Montepulciano Wines

  • Wikipedia

    "According to wine expert Oz Clarke, Montepulciano d'Abruzzo is often a deeply colored wine with pepper and spice notes. It can be described as "rustic" which Clarke says is less pronounced when the wine is paired with food. Master of Wine Mary Ewing-Mulligan describes the wines as aromatic, tannic and with low acidity. According to Italian wine expert Joe Bastianich, Montepulciano d'Abruzzo's can be highly aromatic with earthy notes and black berries and have inky-purple color with a thick, almost syrupy mouthfeel. While Montepulciano d'Abruzzo is often consumed young, the wine does have some aging potential with producers such as Stefano Illuminati of the Controguerra winery Illuminati noting that the wine doesn't really change much in 10 years which can have its benefits and disadvantages because on one hand, you open a well-aged Montepulciano and it is still fresh and full-bodied. On the other hand, you don't always get the more complex secondary aromas that develop with age. . . Clarke [further] describes Montepulciano as producing a round, plummy and weighty red with ripe tannins, good acidity and a low price tag."

  • Eric Asimov, The New York Times

    "The montepulcianos [tasted by a panel] were solid and enjoyable, bursting with tart cherry and earth flavors, sometimes augmented by herbal and floral aromas and, in the best, a minerally complexity. . . [It] is resolutely dry, with enough soft fruit to be drinkable when young, yet tannic enough to keep it trim and energetic. While it pairs naturally with any dish that has tomato sauce, it's as versatile as barbera or good Beaujolais. What you won't find with montepulciano is much variation in flavors [from maker to maker]."

  • Loren Sonkin, IntoWine

    "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."

  • Berry Bros. & Rudd

    "t normally produces light to medium bodied fruit driven wines, often low in tannins and acidity and which are usually best drunk young. However there are a handful of producers who produce 100% Montepulciano wines from low yielding old vines which are then oak aged and which will continue improving in bottle for 10 years or more."

  • Michael Gallo, examiner.com

    "[I]t is always a softly plumy, low tannin, easy-going wine with a strange but unmistakable waft of sea air about it. Despite its strong reliability, it has never become expensive on the export markets, and is often a surefire bet for a modestly priced Italian red with more depth than most of its equals."

  • Snooth

    "It’s a plush, juicy grape that’s easy to cultivate, with high yields. This has been a blessing to local farmers in an otherwise historically poor section of the country. Many of the younger wines released from the region are easy to drink and food-friendly, found at excellent values. Some producers also take the diligence to release aged Riservas, which have been found to last for decades under the right vinification practices and cellar conditions.

  • Katie Kelly Bell, Forbes

    "The Montepulciano grape tends to ripen late and produce big juicy berries, which can lend itself to bland, plummy wines. Careful producers who attend to quality produce soft, approachable wines with rustic sensibilities. Although Montepulciano is best consumed young, some can age 4 to 5 years."

  • Wine Searcher

    "The variety typically provides deeply colored juice (which varies from ruby to purple depending on vintage and the particular winemaking techniques used) with low acidity and soft, unobtrusive tannins."

  • Vinodiversity

    "The wines made from this variety are typically full bodied with deep colour, spicy and plummy flavours and high levels of tannin. They usually need some bottle age."

  • CountryBred

    "The wine is characterized by a deep purple and cherry color and exudes notes of spice and red fruit, such as red currants and wild cherry. The intense red fruit taste, although long lasting, demonstrates a lower acidity level than most other Italian red wines."

Some Montepulciani to Try

(About this list.)

The choosing was, for once, pretty easy: there are quite a few recommended bottlings, but most reviewers agreee that they are all pretty good, so these are just the ones most frequently mentioned and readily available.

The quotations below are excerpts; we strenuously urge you to click on the green diamond symbol by each quoted review to see the full article.
  • Citra Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, $6 - $8.
    (This is also widely available by the magnum at even sillier prices.)

    Some quotations and facts:

    Great value for a well balanced food red that will work with a wide variety of dishes. Expect aromas of red cherry and pomegranate fruit with dried herbs, mushroom and tobacco tones. It is midweight and well balanced with just enough acidity and soft tannin to give it the structure for food. Try with meaty pasta sauces or mildly spicy sausages. Very good length. 87 points.

    This is the sort of remarkable bargain we wine critics tend to overlook in our enthusiasm to cover the recherché small producers. Close your eyes and don’t let the screw cap or familiar label distract you from enjoying this satisfying red. Alternatively, serve it from a decanter if moneybags friends are coming over. Medium-bodied, cherry-like and surprisingly earthy and herbal, it’s balanced, supple and juicy.

    It doesn't get much cheaper than this, but to my surprised pleasure, it turned out to be an "interesting" wine, unexpectedly complex and a fine accompaniment to food. It's a clear ruby color. Black cherry and pleasant smoky, tarry aromas. Juicy sour-cherry fruit flavor, crisp and very tart, with an earthy undertone that follows the smoke and tar on the nose.

    It’s not “affordable,” it’s not “economical” – it’s cheap. Now banish that thought, because price tag preoccupation will stop you from enjoying Citra’s heady, grapey bouquet and its simple yet entirely satisfying flavour and texture. This in one hand and a barbecued burger in the other and you’re two-fisting your way to a better world.

    Notes: This was only my second Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, so I was very gung-ho to give this Citra selection a try. When I poured it, I found it to be a very deep, inky purple. The scents that wafted up from the glass included earth, dark berries and oak. It was on the cusp between light- and medium-bodied with light tannins and 13% alcohol. The acidity was what I would describe as moderate. Drinking this Abruzzo wine was quite interesting – which was a good thing in this case. I found that the fruit flavors – blackberry and dark cherry – were in the back seat. In my opinion, it was cola and oak flavors up front. There were also notes of green leafy herbs. On the finish, the tannins brought me a nifty zing of bitter quinine. Another pretty good experience with this varietal! Even though the tannins were fairly light, I still think I might pair this with a cut of beef – like maybe a flat iron steak. Or I bet it would be good with a hearty chicken dish as well.

    Rich berry flavor and aroma / smooth finish / vibrant red color / dry and well balanced. . . Under $10 for the 1.5 Liter bottle! Excellent Deal

    Sturdy black plum, leather, smoked meat and black cherry. Rating: 89 points.

    I don’t drink to excess generally so the [1.5 liter] bottle was consumed over about a week. On day one it tasted medium bodied but more tart than desired. It smelled of alcohol but not wine. While not awful, immediate buyers remorse was felt all around. On day two, there were glimmers of hope. This product of Italy no longer smelled of alcohol. In a day the flavor mellowed to sippability (unclear if this a real word). On day three, it peaked. Notes of cherry were very present. .  On day 4, when the bottle came to an end, there were mixed emotions. Rarely do I have a bottle last 4 days. Should a wine peak on the 3rd day? Citra was a great value by volume but I’m not interested in a wine that requires a waiting period to fully enjoy.

    Delicious, drinkable, good with spicier, or heavier, or meaty dishes. For $6 it is hard to beat.

    Belying its grapey, leathery aroma, this is actually a soft wine chock full of bright red cherry fruit, red plum and cinnamon. Think of it as sangria with balls. It sports solid acidity and a hint of tannins without the astringency. 4 stars.

    It has an intense red colour, very dark in fact. You can detect some red fruits in the aroma and taste, in addition to some spices (although I could not narrow down the precise ones). It was full bodied and smooth. . . Straight from the bottle the wine was best described as 'rough'. However, we poured it through the aerator and the smoothness came through immediately. Later I found that if I left the aerated wine in the wine glass for 15 minutes before consuming it the smoothness increased even further, as did the red fruit flavours. As an everyday 'house wine' Citra Montepulciano D'Abruzzo will be hard to beat for value for money and flavour.

  • Masciarelli Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, $7 - $10.
    (This is their basic bottling; don't confuse it with the pricier "Marina Cvetic" or "Villa Gemma".)
         ($9.94 at Saratoga Wine Exchange).

    Some quotations and facts:

    Black cherry to garnet hue with bouquet of cherry, slight rose petal, dill and spicey licorice. Palate--Lovely fruity, cherry and licorice touches with solid structure, and a beam of nice bright fruit mid-palate with a nice texture. Finishes a little quick but a nice all around Montepulciano and a great food wine.

    A clear, deep ruby red. On the nose the wine presents youthful, intensely perfumed notes of dark cherry, dark chocolate, violets and blackcurrants. A dry and drying palate awaits with medium- acidity and medium+ tannins, alcohol level of 13% is held well in balance by a “semi-skimmed” body and gum chewing tannins. This is a big, flavoursome wine with some very raisened dark fruit notes, and kinda stalky (high yields much). The finish is quite short although those tannins will hang around your mouth all evening.

    The '04 Montepulciano d'Abruzzo is bright and cheery, with lots of fresh fruit flavors and aromas, but it also has what I call ethnicity, a sense of place. Anyone tasting the wine can tell that it did not come from some enormous, anonymous vat in Southern California. If the large bottle seems daunting, it comes in regular-size bottles as well.

    This is another wine that is a nice marriage of old and new world styles. It has a few characteristics that make it a bit dirty and interesting in an old world way, but enough fruit to appeal to fans of new world wines. It has a slightly smokey and dusty nose with dark berries and leather. There is very good concentration in the palate. Cherries, blackberries and chocolate all have a strong presence. There is a lot of fruit, but the fruit is a touch young tasting—keeping this wine very dry. It has a medium length finish with smooth tannis and a hint of chocolate. I found this for $8.99 and it is an excellent wine for that price. I gave it an 87.

    [Y]you can not go wrong with the quality for price point. This deep red wine exhibits lots of dark berry flavors, a nice kick of pepper, and is luscious and smooth with a lovely long finish.

    Masciarelli Montepulciano d' Abruzzo set off a symphony on my palate when I first tasted it. Montepulciano is a grape that produces very lively and robust wine. This bottling is rustic, meaning that it reflects the earth and has the integrity of its region. On the nose, it has wonderful aromas of cherry, spice and tobacco. On the palate, it is silky, and mouth-filling, with just enough grip to finish long – that means it lingers on the palate. It has every quality of a great wine. But best of all, it costs only about $7.99 a bottle.

    The wine had a palatable level of tannins that left a residual sensation as it passed through my mouth, while bright notes of raspberries were followed by a nutty taste to compliment the absurd amount of Parmesan cheese I had “accidentally” poured on my pasta. Finishing his glass, my anti-wine connoisseur ex-roommate actually gave the wine his approval. The comparison to the nameless 2 euro wines I found in Italy that I had fallen in love with made him like it even more.

    Ripe cherry flavors with a refreshing astringency.

    Every whiff of aroma from the glass showcases another scent, every sip another flavor. It’s what makes this wine so interesting with aromas and flavors of plum, cassis and black cherry with side notes of licorice, violets, tobacco and dark chocolate. It’s earthy and savory, with lots of rich, ripe fruit. In the mouth the wine is medium-bodied with balancing acidity and quite chewy tannins. Those tannins will want some protein to smooth them out, so serve it with a sausage pizza or a pulled pork sandwich.

    Dark cherry red in colour, after aerating aromas of cherry, brown sugar and earthy woods rose from the glass. Fermented and aged in stainless steel to preserve the bright fruit, sour cherry and red currant flavours were supported by earthy elements and astringent green tea tannins in the medium body. White pepper and dried tobacco leaf comprised the moderate finish.

    The color is ruby red, and not unappealing, while the nose is decent, with cherry and raspberry aromas. The taste is primarily straightforward dark cherry, with an average finish and no "Wow!" to speak of. Some have suggested hints of tobacco, but I just don't get that here...not that complex. In addition, this is an extremely dry wine, so much so that one puckers after a few tastes--and I, generally, prefer dry reds. In a pinch, this wine beats the heck out of a plastic, candy-sweet red of some type, or even a really cheap, poorly-made Chianti, as a pairing with pizza, pasta with red sauce, or red meat. But there are many other wines at this price level (and below) that are far superior. The Masciarelli is not something I feel compelled to have on hand or seek out, again. But I can envision circumstances where it might be better than the alternative.

  • Zonin Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, $7 - $12.
    (It is unclear what the difference is, if any, between the normal bottling and the "Winemakers Collection" bottling some retailers sell.)
         ($10.74 at Saratoga Wine Exchange).

    Some quotations and facts:

    The Zonin Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is probably one of the best buys I have come across since moving back to the United States. (Ugh, we were oh-so-spoiled in Argentina and Italy!) Very smooth and soft, the wine has a rich licorice and earthy nose with some hints of fruit. It is medium-bodied, with some subtle (but not standout, jammy) fruits on the palate, and a slightly tart and acidic finish. For such an inexpensive wine, it has a great balance of fruit and earth qualities, and some maturity I honestly didn’t expect in a wine of its price.

    Bright purple to the eye, with a syrupy, grapey nose that runs deep. The palate is snappy, lively and loaded with blackberry, while the feel is entirely round and soft. Good acids make it a healthy drink. Overall it bears a strong resemblance to Beaujolais. 85 points.

    The nose smelled of leather and dried figs, while the palate also showed much leather (but the smooth and supple kind) and dried raspberry notes. I really enjoyed this wine and appreciated it for its age and how well it was drinking. My mother, who partook in this bottle with me this evening, was not a fan; she could not get past the leatheryness of the nose or the palate. She asked me if I would have enjoyed the wine if it were younger and still had these characteristic; I admitted to her that no I would not have enjoyed this wine if I knew it were younger because I would be expecting a heck of a lot more fruit. But because this wine is almost 10 years old it really is quite lovely for its age. Its all relative my friend, all relative.

    I'm sure enjoying this wine, especially at the ten dollar price point. It's by no means complex, or rich, or of great depth. And it's also rather stingy, aromatically, with a hint of cherry and perhaps a minuscule amount of licorice on the nose. But in the mouth, it's smooth, with soft tannins, offering bright cherries and--following a hollow mid-palette--a pleasant and lingering black licorice flavor. The length is decent enough, too (especially for ten bucks). The color is a deep, dark ruby red, rather attractive. .  A straightforward, easy drinking little wine for just under $10.00 US. Not big enough, deep enough, nor interesting enough to get to 90 points--and there's the weak nose and hollow middle, too--but to me, this is a great weeknight-at-home-wine, and worth every cent. 88 points.

    The winemaker describes this as “brilliant, attractive, and warm ruby-red” in color, with an “ample bouquet, with scents of plum and wild berries,” and flavor that is “dry, full-bodied with notable personality.” I think the above a tad overstated, but generally on point . . Very solid but not supreme.

    [O]ur best value, the 2007 Zonin, was a 1.5 liter bottle for $11. The Zonin is a great deal - balanced and endlessly pleasing with spicy cherry flavors and floral aromas.

    It is more complex than you would expect for $8.99. This wine has a bit of Earth to it and yet carries the flavors of black cherry, blackberry, black currant and more. Very well balanced. Smooth, slightly warm finish. Would be good with a number of dishes: pizza, pasta with tomato based sauce and / or red meat. A great buy for the money. Rating: 9.5 / 10

    Grade=Average. Not bad for this Italian red, displaying some soft, red fruit and good acidity. Nice value.

  • Illuminati "Riparosso" Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, $8 - $16.
    (Illuminati bottles at least four different Montepulciani; don't get confused.)

    Some quotations and facts:

    Without apology, I have claimed the Illuminati Riparosso as my favorite all-around Italian red for years. It has such a wonderful balance of fruit and structure, in wine terms. In not-so-winey terms, it just tastes good. The 2007 gives off a noseful of berries – boysenberries, blueberries, black raspberries – and sloshes around between your cheeks with darker, mocha-cigar box tones, all held together by lush, seductive tannins.

    Illuminati Riparosso Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is deep ruby red in color, with aromas of dark red fruit, smoke and spice. With surprisingly intense ripe cherry and raspberry flavors, it’s not entirely typical of many wines from this region, which is a good thing. Yet the wine finishes with old-world elements, including licorice, leather and tar.

    Showing plump dark fruit both on the nose and palate, this wine finishes both racy and round. This has always been one of our top values, and is a perennial favourite around our office. And, with a recent silver at the Decanter World Wine Awards, it’s an incredible value not to be missed!

    Rich red fruits, soft tannins and some coffee notes, a gentle, fun crowd-pleaser.

    Illuminati’s 2012 Riparosso Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is a modern take on the style that spends only six months aging in oak which allows a dark, jammy goodness to dominate. Its ripe plummy flavour and dried cherry finish is an ideal partner for lamb, pasta with meat sauces, beefy burgers and aged cheeses.

    A perennial bargain from Abruzzo, Riparosso has very Italianate characters reminiscent of cherries, panforte, leather and tar. It's savoury and interesting, medium-bodied and dry, with juicy balancing acidity and fine grippy tannins.

    This rustic charmer has such a great quality for price ratio that it’s now moved from Vintages to the regular LCBO shelves. Medium bodied with a spiced old wood nose from Slovenian oak aging and a savoury spiced cherry flavour it’s open, harmonious and ready to quaff. 87 points.

    [Google-translated from Italian:] The Riparosso is the real star of the team of the Illuminati, a wine whose name worldwide means Montepulciano d'Abruzzo and is in hundreds of thousands of bottles, always to a remarkable standard. In this 2009 edition shows intense aromas and pleasantly vinous and tasting highlights an important point spread and juicy.

    Medium-bodied and creamy, yet with a gently astringent tannic backbone, this value-priced red suggests cherries, violet and old wood, lifted on the finish by brisk acidity and spice. 87 points.

    [T]he balance of cherry, herb and floral flavors in the 2006 Riparosso from Dino Illuminati offered intrigue and kept me coming back for more.

  • La Valentina Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, $10 - $16.
    (Don't confuse this with their "Spelt" bottling, $16 - $27, though that is good, too.)
         ($13.54 at Saratoga Wine Exchange).

    Some quotations and facts:

    Modern in style, the wines of La Valentina have done much to help partially change the image of wine from Abruzzo from one of rusticity to one of a more polished expression of the grape varieties upon which a wine is based. . . In the glass this 2009 La Valentina Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is an intense ruby red colour that shows off the typical alcoholic content of this wine (13.5% abv) in the form of easily visible alcoholic legs when it is swirled. Aromatically more balanced than some “mass produced” Montepulciano (which can tend towards an under-ripe red fruit character) this 2009 La Valentina Montepulciano d’Abruzzo shows softer edged aromas of ripe dark cherry and plum flavours. A hint of sootiness and the merest hint of clove hint at the twelve months maturation in oak that 20% of this 2009 La Valentina Montepulciano d’Abruzzo experienced. Dry and fairly full bodied in the mouth, you get a lot more ripe and jammy fruit than you would expect here. Dark cherry and plums remain the most prominent flavoural cues in this 2009 La Valentina Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, with a hint of liquorice and clove also adding nuance. The tannins of this 2009 La Valentina Montepulciano d’Abruzzo are relatively structured, but soft and nicely enveloped by the fruit components of this wine. The acidity level of this 2009 La Valentina Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is characteristically high and this cleanses the palate during the finish, which is of moderate length. Notably accomplished for an “entry level” Montepulciano, this 2009 La Valentina Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is impressive now [2013] or it could be cellared through to 2016. Score: 86/100 – This 2009 La Valentina Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is an exciting “entry level” Montepulciano from the La Valentina winery. The achievement of this 2009 La Valentina Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is especially impressive given the quantity produced. . . this 2009 La Valentina Montepulciano d’Abruzzo might be more expensive than much “entry level” Montepulciano d’Abruzzo but is also much better.

    Color: Hot climate= dark wine. If you’ve donated blood before, this will look familiar. It stained the glass on the swirl because the grapes that this wine is made from had a ton of color and that carried through in the finished product! Smell: This had a lot going on. It was like licorice, cranberries, black pepper, and eucalyptus. From the barrel aging it smelled like new suede shoes and dried cocoa powder. On a second whiff the wine was like a botannical greenhouse — it smelled like violets and dirt. And then, I don’t know if I was imagining it, but I got a sort of salty earth or even cured salty meat thin too. Very interesting. Taste: So, on the first night the wine was a little short on flavor. The eucalyptus and salty earth tastes were there and there was a little cranberry and black cherry too. It had good mouth-drying tannin and that sensation stuck around, but the fruitiness made a quick exit and it was a little bit boring. Now, on the second night — much, much better. The wine tasted more lush and fruity — like ripe plums. It didn’t have as much tannin to it but it was more of an easy-going sippable wine the next night. Everything seemed more in balance and it was a total hit with my pizza. Drink or sink?: Drink. For $9, this is a solid wine. Is it going to rock your world? No, but for an inexpensive red during the week, it’s a safe pick and a great pairing with tomato sauce or pizza.

    ♣ Wine Spectator (date unknown), 87 points.

    Montepuliciano d’Abruzzo always impresses with colour depth and weight, but seldom with finesse and length. This gets closer. It is nicely done for the money with a rustic meaty, pine/woodsy scent around the dark currant, pomegranate fruit. It’s medium weight, with good density and firm, refreshing slightly tart acidity. Tannin is refined, and there is good fruit sweetness on the finish.

    The thing I like about this wine is that it’s the best of both worlds. A bit old world and a bit new world. The nose on this is new world leather and dark dried cherries, plus old world barnyard, mushrooms and black olives. There’s also a bit of licorice on the nose. The palate is nice and fruity with plum and dark cherry, but it’s not a fruit bomb—there is just enough frutta. The fruit is complemented by some black pepper and a hint of mid-palate chocolate. The finish is long and fantastic. It’s a fairly fruit-filled finish with a return of the licorice that was on the nose. This isn’t going to be the best wine you’ve ever had, but it’s a solid Italian red and it’s a great example of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. And at $13 it’s an affordable way to try this varietal. Wine Spectator gave this an 87, but my numbers came in a notch higher at 88.

    Fattoria La Valentina Montepulciano d’Abruzzo has a red fruit flavor at first sip, without being “fruity.” It’s clean on the palate. It really is meant to have with food, like red pasta dishes and beef. A nice boar ragu. The finish is black cherry/cranberry/licorice, but not obnoxiously so. And I, of course, mean black licorice.

    Montepulciano is a deeply colored variety with sturdy tannins, and it's true to form in this likable wine from Fattoria La Valentina. Aromas of blackberries and cherries fairly leap from the glass. In the mouth, the promised delectable berry flavors are layered with savory notes of tobacco and anise. Frisky acidity keeps the fruit in line, and those sturdy tannins demand protein from a grilled steak or sausage.

    Soft tannins laced with licorice, exotic spices, black cherry and earthy notes.

    It is indeed an attractive wine, with baked cherry, licorice and a stony minerality on the nose. Small wonder, as the vines here live in stony soils at 500 - 1000 ft. in altitude. And although it has wonderful up front dark fruit in the mouth and excellent acidity giving it lift, it finishes with a bit of drying tannins that make me wonder if this bottling is a bit too serious for it's $11.99 price point. It seems that it could benefit from a year or 2 in the bottle. Still, at an everyday price like this, it's definitely worth checking out for yourself.

  • Valle Reale "Vigneto di Popoli" Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, $12 - $27.
    (Don't confuse this with their "Vigne Nuova" or other bottlings; this is their basic, plain Montepulciano.)
         ($16.64 at Saratoga Wine Exchange).

    Some quotations and facts:

    The montepulcianos were solid and enjoyable, bursting with tart cherry and earth flavors, sometimes augmented by herbal and floral aromas and, in the best, a minerally complexity. Our No. 1 wine, the 2005 Valle Reale, combined all these qualities. Its lively pleasures made it far and away our favorite, and its $18 price was not too onerous.

    In the glass this 2008 Valle Reale Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is a fairly intense ruby red colour. Oak maturation and a couple of years in bottle have not appreciably discoloured the rim of this 2008 Valle Reale Montepulciano d’Abruzzo even though you might expect it. The alcoholic content is typical for Montepucliano d’Abruzzo at 13.5% abv and moderate alcoholic legs are the result when this 2008 Valle Reale Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is swirled. Well-defined blackberry and bramble aromas lead the bouquet of this 2008 Valle Reale Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, with clear coal and graphite nuances offering a mineral tone. A hint of spice derived from oak prickles the inside of nostrils as you sniff this 2008 Valle Reale Montepulciano d’Abruzzo too. Slightly restrained in nature, but with an unusual elegance that Leonardo Pizzolo will tell you comes from the high temperature differential between day and night in this part of Abruzzo, this 2008 Valle Reale Montepulciano d’Abruzzo gives flavours of blackberry and black cherry initially, before cedar and balsamic notes appear as the palate develops. A robust tannin structure is well integrated and this in combination with a good level of acidity results in just a hint of savoury tanginess on the relatively persistent finish of this 2008 Valle Reale Montepulciano d’Abruzzo.

    ♣ Wine Advocate (August 2010), 91 points.

    The 2007 Montepulciano d'Abruzzo is impressive in the way it coats the palate with masses of dark fruit, flowers, tobacco, chocolate and cinnamon. This full-bodied, generous Montepulciano will drink beautifully for at least several years. Hints of chocolate linger on the finish.

    The 2008 Montepulciano d'Abruzzo is a tasty red. Dark fruit, leather, licorice and tobacco flow from this generous, plump Montepulciano

    [Google-translated from Italian:] This begins in the vineyard Montepulciano oldest company. Wild vines with more than 50 years. Vines planted in rocky soil with little clay. From morning until night, this area is affected by a constant ventilation throughout the summer. Ventilation that ensures the health of the clusters throughout the ripening stage. The color is ruby ​​red. Very intense. The nose graphite and blackberry capture. In the mouth soft, enveloping, very long.

    Ripe notes of black plum and cherry follow through to hints of cedar and spice on a medium frame. Well-balanced, showing fine length.

    There’s an intricate patchwork of flavors in this succulent, medium full-bodied red. Taste cherry, then tobacco, then violet and plum with a thread of fine-grained tannins holding it all together. Then marvel at the attractive price-quality ratio. This wine opens with an intense nose that has very clear mineral notes of graphite and dark fruit like blackberry and cassis. The taste is very well-balanced and soft thanks to the sweetness of the tannins. The typical acid vein of the Montepulciano grapes gives the wine a pleasant sense of freshness and a dynamic taste. It has a long finish with mature nuances of fruit.

    Earthy and rich with a dark black cherry nose. One of the best pairings with chili.

    Big, fleshy, fruity red with plum, liquorice, spice, and mint flavours. The soft and sumptuous palate leads to a pleasantly drying finish. Good gutsy red that’s best with food. 85 points.

    [Google-translated from Italian:] The Valle Reale Montepulciano is a modern and fresh, and in this edition '08 has hints of tomato and purple, and in the mouth it is crisp and punchy, with a closing pleasantly tasty.

  • Cataldi Madonna Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, $14 - $20.
    (Don't confuse this with their upmarket "Toní" bottling.)

    Some quotations and facts:

    Grade=Outstanding+. The Cadillac of Montepulciano, Cataldi Madonna scores again with its full-bodied presence of dark red fruits, spices and walnuts.

    Velvety and smooth with dark juicy fruit and a smoky edge, this Montepulciano d'Abruzzo is primo quaffing wine from a region of Italy that still has bargains to offer. The 2001 Montepulciano d'Abruzzo from Cataldi Madonna is an example of clean, modern winemaking from a region that's been slower to catch on to the revolution than some others. Though it's pitched to an international market, this sturdy red has enough character to make it interesting.

    ♣ Wine Advocate (date unknown), 89 points.

    The 2008 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is a rich, powerful wine loaded with dark fruit, violets, flowers and minerals, all of which come together with unsual grace. This exquisite entry-level Montepulciano offers dazzling clarity, finesse and vibrancy. It is a steal for the money.

    The estate's 2009 Montepulciano d'Abruzzo is a big, juicy wine bursting with red fruit. This mouth-filling, generous red delivers tons of pleasure for a very reasonable tariff. The radiant finish makes it hard to resist a second taste. The straight Montepulciano is another standout from Cataldi Madonna.

    The 2008 Cataldi Madonna Montepulciano d’Abruzzo had a deep ruby color with a purplish tint. On the nose, there were cherries, blackberries, plums, blueberries spices, and violets, followed by a hint of rubbing alcohol. In the mouth, there were juicy dark plums, ripe blackberries, blueberries, and a hint of violets. The wine had light-to-medium tannins, a medium body, and smooth acidity. Is this worth a glass after work? It’s worth more than one! What are you waiting for? At $27, this wine is well balanced, intense, and luscious. It needs to breathe a little before it shows it’s true flavors, but it’s well worth the wait.

    Ruby color. Nose: plum, currant, dry violet, cinnamon. Palate: dry, acidic, light, fruit tanins, medium body.

    Stewed cherry, cinnamon, cigar tobacco, and mint in the nose, this wine comes across as soft, delicious, and a bit rustic in the mouth. Perfect for a succulent roast pork loin.

    Fronted by black cherry and plum aromas, the sensations are continued on the palate. The slight hint of chocolate adds considerably to the overall impression, as does the medium body and soft tannins.

  • La Valentina "Spelt" Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, $17 - $27.
    (Don't confuse this with their basic bottling, listed above.)
         ($19.84 at Saratoga Wine Exchange).

    Some quotations and facts:

    A very intense ruby red colour in the glass, this 2006 La Valentina “Spelt” Montepulciano d’Abruzzo shows almost no rustic discolouration towards the rim of the glass despite the fact that it is now seven years after the Montepulciano grapes for this [wine] were harvested. The alcoholic content of this [wine] is more pronounced than for the other Fattoria La Valentina Montepulciano d’Abruzzo imported to the UK at 14% abv. Obvious alcoholic legs are the result when this [wine] is swirled in the glass. Aromatically dense and complex, this [wine] offers aromas of riper than typical dark cherries, plum and liquorice. Nuances of clove spice and tar are also in evidence as air permeates this [wine] and as it develops. Dry and full bodied on the palate, this [wine] shows ripe dark fruits, an attractive earthiness and mineral nuances. Darker cherry and plum flavours are layered to form the basis of the palate of this [wine], with cocoa, earth and cloves becoming more prominent as the palate develops. Once muscular tannins are still supportive but have been softened by bottle age and with a retained level of acidity offer further options for bottle maturation should you so desire. 88 points.

    Now, I don't usually use words like "lovely" to describe Montepulciano, but this one is elegant and sophisticated: 2008 Fattoria La Valentina Spelt Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, a really nice vintage and a Montepulciano with floral notes that hint at sweetness. On the tongue, however, are ripe, dark, berry and mocha flavors with some spicy wood notes. It's remarkably suave on the palate -- a truly delicious and classy Montepulciano and one that you'd expect to pay much more than 21 bucks for. .  2008 Fattoria La Valentina Spelt Montepulciano d'Abruzzo is a tremendous value. One note: If you buy a bottle, you might want to decant it before drinking, or at least be careful pouring the last few sips. The bottle I had contained a considerable amount of sediment.

    ♣ Wine Spectator: 31 May 2013, 89 points.

    ♣ Gambero Rosso (2013), Tre Bicchieri ("Three Glasses", their highest accolade, awarded to only 399 of over 20,000 Italian wines sampled).

    ♣ Wine Advocate: 28 February 2013, 92 points; 30 June 2011 (2007 vintage), 90 points; 30 June 2011 (2006 vintage), 91 points; 31 August 2010, 89 points; 31 August 2009, 89 points.

    A more sophisticated side of Montepulciano emerges from the 2008 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Spelt. Sweet floral notes lead to dark red berries and spices in this polished, gracious Montepulciano. La Valentina did a great job with the 2008, a wine that shows the pure elegance and refinement that Montepulciano is capable of. Sweet floral notes add lift on the finish. A pretty, beautifully balanced, silky wine loaded with class, the Spelt should drink well for the better part of the decade. Best of all, the Spelt is a fabulous value. Anticipated maturity: 2014-2020. La Valentina is a great source for flavorful reds that emphasize the richness Montepulciano is capable of.

    The Montepulciano grape makes wines that are fairly deep in color, often with rich tannin structure, and aromas/ flavors of smoke, red and black fruits and sometimes an interesting vegetal note. The 2006 Spelt has vibrant aromas and flavors that suggest tart black berries, a tarry earthiness, herbal notes and a gentle vanilla perfume. The wine is totally dry and borders on full-bodied, with an element of firm tannin that, together with the wine’s fairly high acidity, gives definition and character. The texture is beautifully smooth apart from the rear-palate tannin. The fruit flavors have good concentration and exude a refreshing juiciness. This wine has an appealing fruitiness but it is also complex in flavor, and stylistically it falls into the category of spicy reds rather than simple fruity reds. The basic La Valentina Montepulciano d’Abbruzzo is also a spicy red, a lively wine with very good concentration of fresh red-fruit flavor, especially cranberry. That wine is made without oak, while the Spelt, in contrast, aged 18 months in new and used barriques, which lends a polished character to the wine. . . It is drinking very well now [2006 vintage in 2011], and will develop nicely, I believe, over 5 years or so, losing its spicy edges with time. This is a terrific value for an individual, artisan wine. 90 Points.

    Made in Italy’s Abruzzo region from 100% Montepulciano grapes, this is a supple, rich and sexy wine with cinnamon, cherry and chocolate notes. Medium-bodied with velvety soft tannins and a bit of earth, it works nicely as a sipper or with a meal.

    La Valentina Spelt Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2006 is 100 percent Montepulciano, from 27-year-old vines in Spoltore. The wine is soft as velvet on the palate with nice acidity and notes of spice, oak and dark fruit.

    Medium garnet hue with sweetish black cherry and earth-inflected aromas. Warm and fullish in the mouth with plenty of round, plummy black fruits, loamy earth, and an enveloping, slightly thick and cushy feel.

    A chunky red, chock full of dark fruit flavors accented with brown cooking spice and balsamic; for all its heft, as smooth and lengthy as its name.

    This rich and expressive red leads with a gamy edge to the roasted plum and black cherry notes, giving off hints of spice and olive on the grippy finish.

For a Splurge

The real premier makers are Emidio Pepe and Edoardo Valentini, but their bottle prices are beyond even what we call "splurge" level, about the very cheapest offering starting at $65, and some at $275 (depending on vintage year). A more plausible alternative that a lot of reviewers like is the Valle Reale "San Calisto" Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, available at retail for about $30 to $40.

     ($32.74 at Saratoga Wine Exchange).

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