Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Abruzzo Mistaken Wine Identity, Case #2: Montepulciano

As I said before, Abruzzo wines can be victims of mistaken identity. Last time it was a grape and a cheese--this time it's a grape and a wine-growing region. In the Montepulciano region of Tuscany people make wine from the Sangiovese grape that earns the designation "Vino Nobile de Montepulciano." In Abruzzo, they use the Montepulciano grape to make a red wine that is deep, dark, and delicious. It's often a bargain, too, and it's very easy to find in most areas of the country.

Despite the large number of highly affordable Montepulcianos out in the market, my local grocery store here on the coast had only one example of the grape, and it was pretty expensive. The wine was made by Nicodemi, and comes from the relatively new DOCG (Vino a Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita): Montepulciano d'Abruzzo Colline Teramane. Carved out of the larger Montepulciano d'Abruzzo DOC, this new designation is set aside for wines from selected fruit grown in a particular region that is thought to produce superior grapes.

While most Montepulciano d'Abruzzo is rustic pizza and trattoria wine, the wine that I had was an elegant bottling that could go on the table for a special dinner. The 2004 Nicodemi Montepulciano Notari had a dark, intense plummy color that is very characteristic of the grape. ($25.64 in the local grocery; you can get it online from Empire Wines for just under $30) There were pure aromas of blackberry and I also smelled nectarines, which is not something that I expect from the average red wine. There were some herbal nuances as well, which became more focused when I sipped it and turned into eucalyptus. That eucalyptus taste was paired with rich blackberry and fig fruit flavors. The wine felt very smooth and silky in your mouth, and the herbal finish was juicy and pleasant and reminded me a little bit of black tea. I liked this wine a lot, and it showed me that there is a lot more to Montepulciano than you see in the lower price bottlings. Though it was a good QPR wine because of its abundant varietal character, I think I'll be sticking to the more affordable, rustic versions of the wine that I can have with my Friday night pizza.

Oh, I forgot to tell you what we we ate with the wine. I made a pollo all'Abruzzese, which is the Abruzzo version of Chicken Cacciatore. I loved the recipe, which involved browning some chicken, throwing in some aromatic onion, garlic, bay leaf, parsley, and red pepper flakes, and then topping it all off with tomatoes, basil, and freshly roasted yellow peppers. I was scrumptious with the wine, and the texture of the dish--with its silky tomatoes, peppers, and olive oil--really emphasized the elegance and silkiness of the wine. Because of all the herbal notes in the wine, there was no clash with the tomatoes, either.

I've had three wines from Abruzzo this month, and the word that I will associate with all of them is "richness." Whether a white, a red, or a rose, the wines had an intensity of flavor and an opulence that will keep me asking "what's new from Abruzzo?" when I go to the wine store.



Unknown said...

1. You were up damned early.

2. Most Montepulciano d'Abruzzos are low-priced wines, an $25 is a lot to pay for one. But the DOCG designation has a lot going for it, and some of the wines are indeed elegant.

I think Montepulciano d'Abruzzo is consistently underappreciated by the "opinion-makers" in the world of wine, and that it is, along with a handful of other Italian reds (among hundreds) one of the noble grapes of Italy. "Vino Nobile di Montepulciano" (of Tuscany) strikes this old contrarian as no more noble than the Abruzzo variety. I really do think there is a lot of residual regional snobbery and rivalry at play here, plus the unwillingness of US and UK critics to get off their arses and dig deep into regions that are just a tad off the beaten path. Abruzzo isn't filled with genteelly renovated palaces, it's still a rather backward and deeply rural place with some of the cleanest and most rugged land in Italy. But the wine-making tradition stretches back unbroken to Roman times at least.

Hey, aren't you delighted I got that off me chest?

viNomadic said...

Hey, Strappo, good to see you around th Left coast LOL!
Dr.Debs (--& Mr. Huge--) my cottorni/veggie rep for cacciatore center on mushrooms (whatever in season) & peas in spring, carrots or both if possible. Am I out to lunch, dinner or tapas?
In re.: Montepulciano: treated Bayrisch friends in Pfarrkirchen to Montepulciano from Le Marche with pizza back in '99, & it was mellow-sweet rockin'. Tanti baci, DJR

Unknown said...

Where is the world is djr now?

Io sono a Napoli, purtroppo con n raffredore tremendo. Baci!

viNomadic said...

I'm only on the Left Coast in the virtual sense...sorry my own confusion is so easily spread (shared?) Here's a link to some somewhat off-topic narration to bring us all up to...speed?

Dr. Debs said...

I couldn't agree more with you, Terence my dear, for standing up for Abruzzo in the face of Tuscan snobbishness. Sometimes this is how we SoCal folks feel when the San Fran bunch calls us philistines. DJR, thanks for the link to your update. Glad to see you around these parts--even virtually.