Montepulciano – a confusing Italian grape.
Confusing because of its name. ‘Montepulciano’ is a much more famous medieval hill town in Tuscany, Italy. The Vino Nobile di Montepulciano wines produced there are highly regarded around the world and regularly reach premium prices. This means it is hard for people to understand the grape Montepulciano d’Abruzzo as many believe it is linked to the Tuscan town. This confusion is echoed throughout the industry and legal debates are still occurring in order to find a conclusion.
This black grape is high yielding and relatively easy to grow. This causes it to be often considered a lesser variety. ‘Lesser’ as it is used to bulk up other Italian wines during blending. It has gathered an unfair reputation for only being able to only produce fruit forward, mid-level quality wines. The cheaper bottles are often just that, with flavours of plums, cherries and blackberries. However, at its best Montepulciano can be fantastic. It has the ability to display layers of flavour other than simple fruits including nutmeg, clove, black pepper, oregano and thyme. These styles of wine often undergo oak ageing to intensify the spicy woody flavours.
Similar to most grape varieties the vast majority of wines are not made to age, however, the best examples of Montepulciano can age for up to 15 years. This ageing ability typically depends on the weather of that year and if the grape was able to accumulate enough flavour intensity whilst retaining high acid levels. The body, alcohol, tannin and acidity are typically in the medium category which is good for people who like an easy to drink style of wine that can be enjoyed both with and without food.
Italy is the home of this grape variety and is where plantings remain the highest. It is actually the second most planted black grape variety in Italy after the more highly regarded Sangiovese.
The best-known region in Italy for Montepulciano is Abruzzo, a region on the East coast where the wines are called Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC. In order for wines to be called this they must include a minimum of 85% Montepulciano but this often higher.
In 2003 Abruzzo was awarded a specific DOCG for Montepulciano called Colline Teramane Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOCG. The rules state that the wine must be at least 90% Montepulciano with a maximum of 10% Sangiovese. The only other DOCG for this variety is located in the adjoining region Marche. Abruzzo is the most highly regarded region in Italy for Montepulciano and many winemakers are experimenting with premium wines. Oak use is common for this high-end examples as it brings out the flavours of spice and herb from the grape.
In Abruzzo, Montepulciano is also used to produce a wine called Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo DOC. This is a rosé wine, deep in colour from a short contact with the skins. The skins of Montepulciano are richly pigmented meaning a short contact time is able to produce high levels of colour.
An East coast Italian wine region situated just above Abruzzo. Rosso Conero DOC is the name given to red wines produced from a minimum of 85% Montepulciano.
Offida Rosso DOCG is the only other DOCG appellation for Montepulciano in Italy and must contain a minimum of 85% of the grape. The wine from the Offida Rosso DOCG must be produced in the area surrounding the town of Offida. This town contains the other appellations of Offida Passerina DOCG and Offida Pecorino DOCG. To be called Offida Rosso DOCG the wine must be aged for a minimum of 2 years, of which 1 must be in an oak barrel. The wine must then spend a minimum of 3 months in the bottle before it is released.
Located at the tip of Italy on the East coast and known for producing fruity red wines. Montepulciano isn’t a key grape variety here but still produces easy to drink fresh red wines. The majority of plantings are in the North of the region bordering Molise.
A small region located between Abruzzo and Puglia. Montepulciano is the most planted grape here and commonly is found blended with Aglianico and Sangiovese. The region has three DOCs; Biferno DOC, Pentro di Isernia DOC and Molise del Molise DOC. Montepulciano is permitted to be used in each but in varying percentages.
Montepulciano is also planted in small quantities around the world, praised for being easy to grow. Countries, where the grape is cultivated, are America, Argentina, Australia and New Zealand.