The Mystique of Montepulciano
No doubt you have met someone named Elvis, Tiger or Marilyn only to find out that their parents named them out of love and admiration for a famous celebrity. To name your offspring after someone you admire is a distinct honor and one of the sincerest forms of flattery and admiration. Generally it is reserved for celebrities, cultural icons and people easily recognized by their first name.
If you ever come to my home you will have an opportunity to meet "Monte", that is the one I am holding in my left hand. The other is "Mikee", short for Michael Kors because they both are designer dogs (poodle mixes). When we named Monte we decided to deviate from the designer dog names (the first was my daughter's dog "Louis" after the famous designer Louis Vuitton. He now resides in Manhattan with my daughter Stefani.
When we named Monte we decided to pay tribute to the second most widely planted red grape in all of Italy and one of our all time favorites - Montepulciano. This inky, dark fruit, mildly tannic and acidic wine is second only to Sangiovese in Italy in acres planted and is commonly known as a "pizza friendly" wine.
It is easy to understand that when my good friends Dathan Kazsuk and Jen Primrose invited my wife and I over for a pizza and a Montepulciano tasting we jumped on the invitation. The opportunity to enjoy one of our favorite varietals while surrounded by wine blogger "royalty" was one that could not be passed up. As an added bonus my dear friend and wine mentor, Dave Nershi, the renowned editor of Vino Sphere (www.vino-sphere.com, also joined us for this exciting evening. By the way, Jen and Dathan are the creative forces behind Triangle Around Town (www.trianglearoundtown.com/), Screw It Wine digital magazine and What's On The Menu.
So let me share some details about this incredible evening of food, wine and fellowship.
Masciarelli “Marina Cvetic” Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Riserva 2017
This fruit driven wine featured flavors of blackberry, plum, red cherry and mild tannins. With hints of sweet spice and smoky tobacco , this wine was the only Italian Riserva we tasted. Riserva Montepulciano must be aged for at least three years with six months of that spent in oak barrels. Although the flavor was there, the finish on this one was rather abrupt which likely contributed to it being judged 5th out of the 6 we tasted.
Raffaldini Montepulciano Riserva 2015, Swan Creek
This particular wine is near and dear to my heart, I have made no secret of my affinity for the wines produced by the "Chianti of the Carolinas". As a matter of fact, this particular wine was my personal contribution to the tasting. It was a bit more pricey than the other offerings but we were rewarded with a unique flavor profile not present in the other Montelpuciano wines we tasted. I attribute this to the unique "terroir" associated with the Swan Creek AVA and the talents of winemaker Chris Nelson and owner/sommelier Jay Raffaldini. With notes of oak, cedar, and black cherry this wine reflected the use of the appassimento drying method often used at Raffaldini to intensify the flavor profile of their wines. It held it's own among this stellar lineup. The group ranked this wine in 3rd place of the 6 we sampled..
Dragani Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2019
Out of all the wines we tasted, this was the one that most of were the least impressed with. When compared to the other wines, the finish, mouth feel and flavor profile were just not there. The finish was very short and the reminiscent flavor most exhibited was lacking. It is no surprise to me that this wine came in dead last being ranked 6th out of 6.
Torre Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2017
This approachable wine with a pleasant fruit finish had great balance between acidity and tannins. With aromas of red berry fruits, leather and earth this wine exhibited a deep garnet color and notes of cinnamon and clove. Our panel of tasters ranked it 4th out of the 6 we sampled..
Cantina Zaccagnini Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2019
With notes of red fruit, blackberry and plum this wine was very enjoyable and one of my favorites we sampled. With an aesthetic opaque ruby color in the glass this wine had hints of vanilla, chocolate and oak. Although it was young, the finish was dry and smooth with a silky feeling on the palate. I obviously was not the only panelist impressed by this wine because when the results were in it was chosen 2nd out of the 6 we tasted.
La Fiera Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2020
This deep ruby red colored wine with a medium-light body was a huge favorite among the group. With soft tannins and low acidity it was Uber drinkable featuring notes of oak mingled with dark and red fruits. I actually had this wine ranked second on my tasting notes and it was just as popular among the other tasters finishing 1st among the wines we tasted.
As a result of this Montepulciano tasting I have two great revelations to share with you about this delicious varietal.
First, you don't have to spend a lot of money to enjoy a great Montepulciano. As a matter of fact the two that we voted the highest were among the lowest priced we tried. Both the #1 and #2 favorites have a manufacturer's suggested retail price (MSRP) under $20 per bottle. This is indeed a myth buster with many still believing to drink good wine you must spend big money. Nothing could be farther from the truth and serves as evidence of the validity and merit of what people like myself do - educate the consumer.
Second, it is hard to find a Montepulciano that is not user friendly and uber drinkable. All of these wines were good and it was only after comparing them side by side were the subtle nuances of each wine recognizable. With medium body, acidity and tannins Montepulciano is a super drinkable wine that many will find appealing.