Montepulciano D’Abruzzo: Reliable, mass produced and very drinkable, Hannah Bellis says there is life beyond house red for this southern grape…
Anyone who has had more than a few glasses of red in their lifetime will have drunk Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. It is a famous name in that it is so widely available – it is a high yield grape that even when given little attention produces a largely drinkable, very fruity, simple red wine. So, of course, many cooperative growers do just that – knock out bottles to sell as aeroplane wine or house reds across the world. Traditionally, this has been the most exported DOC Italian wine, a fact made possible by the DOC certified zone covering pretty much the whole of the region. And it is a remarkably stable wine; you can treat it roughly and it will still more or less perform. But is this sweatshop mass production all the grape is capable of?
Some Abruzzesi, looking to produce more quality and nuance to Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, are working to address this balance. Northern Abruzzo, with its elevated and cooler vineyards, typically produces better grapes, and has more privately owned producers, contrasting with the large cooperatives of the warmer south of the region. Producers around northern Teramo can label their wines with the sub-designation Colline Teramane, so look for this if you want to be sure your Montepulciano comes from the more favourable terroir and with a regulated output to ensure you are avoiding mass-produced bottles. So yes indeed, in these wines there is life beyond a house red. But this is what makes this grape so special – it is hard to go wrong with, but when quality producers do it right, you get a rich, purple wine that is full and robust, yet harmonious and smooth, with an intense bouquet you don’t see in the cheaper examples. So you can rely on it at both ends of the price spectrum. And that’s rather special.
Before I get a deluge of angry letters I’d like to say that this is the first time I’ve picked the most expensive wine as Discovery of the Month, as I usually feel that if it is expensive, it can’t really be classed as a ‘discovery’. But high-end Montepulcianos are so often undiscovered, as this is still thought of as a cheap table wine and people are reluctant to spend much on it. But this means you can enjoy top-rate wine for far less than you’d spend on many other Italian reds. And this is a top rate wine. Fattoria La Valentina’s very best grapes are blended together after 18 months in oak following fermentation. This late blend allows them to make such a balanced, well-rounded example, with just enough oakiness to enhance the interesting tobacco and tar notes of a good Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. The result is a wine of exceptional character, packed with ripe cherries and plums, developing with clove and tobacco, and ending with liquorice and chocolate notes. It’s all held together by beautifully softened tannins – a lively and lovely wine to discover and delight.
Il faggio montepulciano D’Abruzzo 2012
From Liberty Wines
I first tried this wine at Jamie’s Italian, where it was not the house red, but one up from it, which people say is often worse as you miss economy of scale. But I will defend this wine. It’s smooth and well rounded, with soft tannins and low acidity – fruity on the palate, with cherries at the forefront and a hint of chocolate in the finish. Inoffensive and highly drinkable, the perfect choice for a good value restaurant wine, it will happily partner many different dishes.
A great all rounder, it would be perfect with pizzas of all varieties
La Valentina Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2010
From Berkmann Wine Cellars
Moderately priced and moderately fruity, it’s hard to find much fault with this wine, but it’s hard to get excited about it too. On the nose it is promising – red fruit with leather and tobacco notes, and on the palate it is complex, with hints of spice and pepper, and even soot, with a good, high acidity. It was let down on the finish which is a touch bitter and rather closed. I’d recommend spending the extra money on their Spelt wine, our Discovery of the Month.
A rich tomato and beef ragù – and a big bowl of tagliatelle
Cirelli Montepulciano D’Abruzzo 2012
From Berry Bros
This is a quality and uncommon Montepulciano – only 166 cases were made. It comes from the favourable northern Colline Teramane zone. It’s organic, foot-trodden and pure. Though you can’t see this in the colour – it’s the same gorgeous blueberry red as all of these wines – you can taste the quality in the mouth. Smooth and full forest fruit at first, then fresh cherry and spice coming in, with a hint of earth and mineral in the finish. Simply superior.
Soft and salty warm goat’s cheese salad – or simply on its own
Podere Montepulciano D’Abruzzo 2012
From Great Western Wine
The fruitiness of the Montepulciano grape has been tempered with 10 per cent Sangiovese, which gives this wine slightly more tannic structure. I think it’s a nice mix; a subtle difference, but the extra grape brings a backbone that easy-drinking Montepulciano can lack. The added tannins sit behind ripe and fruity plums with blueberry notes, and a wonderful softness and richness on the palate, with a dry and savoury finish. A great wine at the price.
Tasty pork tenderloin with balsamic-cranberry sauce and Yorkshire pudding