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For the Curious Palate – An Introduction to Montepulciano d’Abruzzo

Italy never ceases to amaze. My latest wine travel adventure was in Abruzzo where I was invited to explore and discover this special place with a savvy group of American and Canadian journalists. With every step along cobblestone paths or well-worn hallways at a medieval castle, through decades-old vineyards or down paths to the Adriatic Sea, Abruzzo was an unforgettable inspiration. Curious? Read on…

Abruzzo Stretches From the Mountains to the Sea

Located between the Adriatic Sea and the Gran Sasso and Majella massifs, Abruzzo has three National Parks and more than ten national and regional nature reserves. The region is separated by a mountainous zone located inland (the area is more than 65% of the entire region) and a coastal section with a wide swath of hills. The three-hour drive from the airport in Rome to the seaside in Abruzzo was stunning with vistas of small villages dotting the valley and unique mountain landscapes.

On Abruzzo’s Apennine side facing the Adriatic Sea, the climate is milder than the area inland. Mountains, a 40-minute drive from the sea, help create a diurnal shift between day and night. Vineyard areas, on mainly clay and calcareous soils, total approximately 36,000 hectares and the annual production is approximately 3.8 million hectolitres.

Major varieties and styles produced in Abruzzo include Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC, Trebbiano d’Abruzzo DOC, Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo DOC, Abruzzo Pecorino and Villamagna DOC. Click here for more.

Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC

Montepulciano is the main red grape variety in all of Abruzzo and represents over 80% of the total number of DOC wines produced in the region. Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC is one of the top three DOC wines produced in Italy.Abruzzo

Pour a glass! The ruby red color and mesmerizing aromas of bright red fruit, flowers, and spice are enticing. Once you have a sip of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, considered by many as one of Italy’s greatest red varieties, you’ll be ready for more – trust me! Dry and full-bodied with elegant tannins and food friendly acidity, flavors of violets, cherries, red berries, licorice are just what wine lovers crave… as are the affordable price points.

Montepulciano d’Abruzzo ripens late – it usually occurs between October 1-20. It’s delicious enjoyed young especially if the wine is in the less-expensive category. When aged at length in oak barrels though, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo has the ability to be even more fascinating and complex with layers upon layers of flavors and sensations.

The Montepulciano variety has been in Abruzzo since the mid-18th century according to historical documents. It was cultivated long ago in the province of L’Aquila and in the inland hills of Pescara. Since the 1950s, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC is found in the coastal hilly area, too, thanks to technological advances and a heightened knowledge of viticultural techniques. These vineyards are at an altitude of no more than 500 meters above sea level and vineyards with a southern exposure are allowed to plant the variety at no more than 600 meters. Regulations allow other red grape varieties from Abruzzo to be included in the blend, but no more than 15% of the total.

montepulciano abruzzo
During the Abruzzo experience, there were several opportunities for swirling and sipping Montepulciano d’Abruzzo.

At Castorani, found on the hills of Alanno in the Province of Pescara, certified organic vineyards are cultivated. The historic vineyards produce grapes that express not only the terroir but tradition with the use of concrete wine vats. Our group tasted an array of wines including a selection of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. Awarded the prestigious Tre Bicchieri award, Amorino 2016, of 100% Montepulciano, was ripe, intense and precise with a lingering finish. Likewise, Podere Castorani Casauria Riserva 2015, from grapes cultivated in a 50-year-old vineyard, was 100% Montepulciano with rich, broad aromas and complex flavors. Podere Castorani Cadetto 2018 offered soft tannins, bright acidity and pure, distinct fruit flavors from beginning to end – the wine was not aged in barrels. For more about Castorani, click here.

montepulciano abruzzo
At 500 meters above sea level, Pasetti is found within the valley of Gran Sasso and Monti della Lago national parks set between its two main areas, Pescosansonesco and Capestrano. During a laughter- and family-filled lunch, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo (among other wines) cultivated in sustainable vineyards were poured.  Harimann 2012, from 60 year-old vineyards, was aged for 24 months in oak then 60 months in the bottle before release. Intense and complex aromas and flavors were notable. On the younger side, Testarossa Rosso 2018 (known in the US as Tenuta Rosso) burst with energy and excitement with bright fruit on the nose and palate. Aged for 24 months in oak then another 24 months in the bottle, the wine is easily a go-to choice for any night of the week. For more about Pasetti, click here.

montepulciano abruzzo
Invited to participate in the Consorzio’s Grand Tasting Abruzzo at Palazzo D’Avalos in Vasto, I found scores of wines to look for upon my return to the United States. During the course of a several hours, a large group of international sommeliers and journalists tasted the new vintages of over 300 labels that represent all production areas from the “best known to the less famous” in Abruzzo.

Among my favorites was Villa Medoro Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Rosso del Duca 2017. On the nose, I found aromas of cherry pie and anise and on the complex palate, integrated tannins and vibrant acidity provided a foundation for  luxurious flavors of chocolate covered cherries, black tea and licorice. Agriverde Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Caldaria 2018 oozed notes of smoke and sweet barbecue sauce on the nose and palate. Gripping tannins and vibrant acidity framed this fascinating wine.

montepulciano abruzzo

Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and Food Pairings

There’s nothing more satisfying with food than a glass or two of wine… and Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is a brilliant match to many favorites. Complement any Mediterranean dish from a first course of pasta with meat sauce to red or white grilled meat to stewed game for a mouthwatering sensation. For an exceptional finale, consider a plate of medium-aged cheeses or a rich chocolate dessert with your favorite Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. Cin Cin!

montepulciano abruzzo

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