Montepulciano - Italy's Easy Going Grape

Sep 22, 2009

There is Montepulciano the region and Montepulciano the grape. Don't confuse them. In the region, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano ('the noble wine of Montepulciano') is made up of Sangiovese whereas the variety, Montepulciano finds its true home on the eastern coast in Abruzzo.

Montepulciano is a relatively late-ripening grape, harvested in late September, early October. Wines made from this variety often have moderate acidity and are soft, jammy and juicy in texture. Expect deep, delicious black fruits and earthier, exotic spices in some higher quality wines. On the whole, these wines are simply easy going, fleshy and pair well with meaty pastas - think ravioli, lasagna or  on a  lazy Sunday night, a heavy beef and pepperoni pizza. Molto bene!

The grape’s origins are relatively unknown. Documentation only goes as far back as the nineteenth century. Research conducted by Ampelographers (botanists who study and classify grapevines) in the 1800's maintained it was related to Sangiovese. Modern research has disputed this in our time. Unlike Sangiovese,  the variety that makes up Chianti and many of the great Super Tuscans, Montepuliciano thrives in a warmer climate and the chilly morning slopes of Tuscany will simply not do.

The history of winemaking in Abruzzo, however, goes as far back as the Etruscans, around the 6th-7th century B.C. The Etruscans were a tribe of mysterious origin, believed to have come from Asian Minor and lived  in and around Central Italy - 'Etruscan' gave us the name 'Tuscany'. Hedonistic in character, they were known for wife-swapping and orgies were said to be a part of their culture.

In the Abruzzo of ancient times, the apianea grapes, a sweet grape not unlike our modern Moscato, was widely planted. The wines from this variety were highly praised by the Roman and Greek scholars in the 4th century.

During the Middle Ages, the area became depopulated as was the case in rural and mountainous regions throughout Italy. Many villages stood abandoned as men and women migrated to larger towns and villages to find work.

In our modern era, winemaking in Abruzzo has only come to the forefront through the effort  and determination of many co-operative wineries and this has only been in the last twenty years!

Today Montepulciano can be used to make wines of both high quality and 'plonk'. Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is the most important DOC with half a million hectoliters pumped out each year. The soils here are calcareous (high in calcium) and morainic (glacially formed accumulation of unconsolidated glacial debris).

Recently the Colline Teramane region was awarded DOCG status. This is just one step in separating the quality wines from the rivers of sub-standard wine (15% of which can be blended with Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese or other local varieties). Time will tell if we see further developments in this up-and-coming region.

Besides Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, the grape is grown in Umbria, Molise and Puglia. In the Marche, Rosso Conero is made up primarily of Montepulciano whereas Rosso Piceno is 70%.

Belfrage, Nicolas, Brunello to Zibibbo: The Wines of Tuscany, Central and Southern Italy. Mitchell Beazley, London, 2001.
Clark, Oz, 2009 Pocket Wine Guide. Harcourt Publishing, Orlando, 2008.
Robinson, Jancis (ed.), The Oxford Companion to Wine. Oxford Univ. Press, Oxford, 2006.


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My focus is mainly on wine culture, history and education. I love the stories behind wine - the people, places and the regional personalities of the wine-countries around the world.

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