The grape variety we are looking at today is Montepulciano.
The origin of Montepulciano is documented and recognized as being from the Peligna valley or Peligna basin at the foot of the Maiella mountain massif in Abruzzo where for centuries it was isolated and then spread to the rest of the territory and to central and southern Italy.
Historically Montepulciano is a varietal full of charm, so much so that Ovid, a Roman poet born in Sulmona, describes his pains of love by recalling the bond that binds the elm to the vine in his "Metamorphosis"; and this is how he claims the viticultural wealth of his region and of its main grape, Montepulciano. In Imperial Rome this varietal is cited several times as "Pretonian wine" and was considered an authentic Grand Cru, capable of producing grapes rich in sugars and a distinctly resinous aroma, with the ability to maintain over time and improve its aromas to be ever more punchy and spicy.
In modern times Montepulciano is defined as a very refined wine that has a rare earthy taste and aromas of cherry and raspberry. It is a varietal that in the post-phylloxera period (around 1920-1950) witnessed its own revival by virtue of promising productivity and convincing quality, for its structure and for its aromatic bouquet.
It is important to note the curious and paradoxical fact that for a long time it was associated with the more ubiquitous Sangiovese due to Renaissance indications that describe its use in the Tuscan city, known precisely by the name of Montepulciano. This confusion between the name of the varietal and the Tuscan city has caused confusion and limited its spread, and only in recent years has it seen strong commercial development. Montepulciano grapes grow in large and compact bunches and have a pruinose skin which causes them to ripen late in order to express all their aromatic potential.
It adapts well to various environmental conditions, but prefers drought areas and very compact soils, where it expresses intensly fruity aromas, balsamic, and sweet spice notes. On the contrary, in areas characterized by a humid climate and looser soils, the aromatic profile develops markedly vegetal, animal and metallic notes, which are not always appreciated.
Blackberry and chocolate notes are the perfect combination to recognize a Montepulciano, but fortunately, there are many other aromas involved!
The variants that influence the aromatic bouquet are due to various factors: the farming systems applied, the choice of clones, the use of wood to construct the aging barrels, the production philosophy, the duration of maceration and more, which together give rise to different wines.
The specific awning system and the "traditional Abruzzo" pergola certainly protect the grapes from direct solar radiation, but at the same time attenuate the variety and strength of the aromas of the wine produced.
The best clones, less productive and with a medium cluster, give greater aromatic breadth with fruity notes of black cherry, roasting that evoke roasted coffee and chocolate, barks such as cinchona and rhubarb, with particular contribution to further evolutionary characters.
Montepulciano is a varietal that expresses itself well with any type of container used for its maturation, elevation and refinement.
- The steel version gives immediate drinkability and a fragrant tone that recalls small berries;
- the passage in concrete brings out notes of dry leaves/hay/earthy;
- the barrel aged versions are concentrated and enhance the wine with sweet spice aromas of cinnamon and nutmeg;
- the large barrels instead enhance the varietal character of the grape with cherry and plum, licorice, green pepper, eucalyptus.
Currently, Montepulciano has an expanding viticulture and precise choices are widely undertaken with regard to the ways in which the varietal is used: spontaneous fermentation, indigenous yeasts, absence of clarification, lack of or mild filtration, low sulphite content. Exactly what is appropriate to decree the depth of the varietal and its recognizability with the territory to which it belongs, authentic aromas that reflect the varietal character but to which further expressive elements are attributed: from spicy curry and juniper, to vegetable, olives and fresh mushrooms, to leather and hide, to graphite and brackish mineral, and then to almond, ferrous and aromatic herbs.
I personally consider the Montepulciano grape to be among the greatest Italian grape varieties. This is a varietal that has everything it needs to produce an excellent wine, an important versatility such as red declination, but above all, notable predisposition for rosé versions, the famous Cerasuolo with the classic aromatic stamp, a less typical white version, a sparkling version with notes of small fruits and pine resin, and a passita version little produced but able to generate a wine suspended between a vibrant balsamic and fruity opulence.
The theme of the varietal typicality affects the area of central Italy overlooking the Adriatic Sea and which is identified with the inland and coastal areas of Marche, Abruzzo, Molise and Puglia, and to a lesser extent with Romagna, Umbria and Lazio. Montepulciano produced in the Conero promontory offers wines of absolute finesse and power within the relative denominations. This is a lovely Mediterranean microclimate with limestone-clay soils that generates wines with strong berry, licorice and juniper aromas. Further south, in the region with the Rosso Piceno DOC, one can find a more delicate and elegant expression of Montepulciano.
I believe Abruzzo is the land of choice. The DOC version of the varietal is found within the whole regional territory;
- The emblem is recognized with Colline Teramane DOCG, where the vineyards cover a limited area between the Gran Sasso and the Laga mountains to the north and the Adriatic coast to the south from which it enjoys sea breezes, and whose soils are rich in ferrous deposits. The wines are wonderful, aromas upon aromas, few peculiar differences, many personal differences, and always an aristocratic bouquet! Controguerra DOC is the other denomination of the province of Teramo to which a strong fruity aromatic value is attributed.
- Towards the south, the province of Pescara, divided into two sub-areas, expresses a classy Montepulciano; calcareous and sandy soils with a cool and breezy climate in the internal hills; the Montepulciano bouquet found here is precise and spiced with pepper.
- L'Aquila with mountain vineyards in limestone soils represents the "thinner and more distant" profile of the varietal in which the fragrant nuances of thyme and mint, violet, hyacinth and pine resin dictate the pace.
The province of Chieti in the south is the most important in terms of production capacity, with a warmer and more temperate climate and more clayey soils from which the clearest cuvées emerge for their fruity content and balsamic richness.
Molise with its own denominations is the geographical and sensorial extension of Abruzzo with very complex and refined wines, capable of evolving well.
Puglia is distinguished by a generous and marked profile of the varietal bouquet from compact soils and a dry climate, in which the maximum expression is determined in the northern area up to the capital, with wines expressing a sweet toasted bouquet, red flowers and red pulp fruit.
Montepulciano magnifies wine excellence and has its roots in the territory that makes the wines it produces unique and identifiable, worthy of being counted among the best in the world for expressive capacity and breadth of the olfactory curve!