Montepulciano | Red wine grape variety native to Italy. It was Italy’s fourth most-planted variety (Ian d’Agata, 2014, p347). It then became one of Italy’s five most planted grape varieties (Ian d’Agata, 2019, p.152). It is found in central Italy, mainly in the Le Marche and Abruzzo regions. In Abruzzo it accounts for 50% of the vineyard (See Montepulciano in Abruzzo). Montepulciano is also the most important red wine grape in Abruzzo’s northern neighbour, Le Marche. See Montepulciano in Le Marche. It features in a wide range of wine styles: sparkling, dry and sweet (air-dried) reds, also rosatos (Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo DOC for example).

National registry code number | 150.

Colour | Red.

Synonyms | Cordisco, Morellone, Uva Abruzzese (Oxford Companion 2015, p. 474).

Vineyard area, Italy | 2000 30,000 ha/75,000 acres in 2000, about the same as in 1990 (Oxford Companion to Wine 2006, p.450). | 2010 34,824 ha/86,052 acres, mainly in Abruzzo and Le Marche with minor plantings in Umbria and Tuscany’s Maremma (Oxford Companion 2015, p.474).

Origin | ‘Unclear. Abruzzo Montepulciano was first mentioned in 1792 in the travel diary of Michele Torcia, archivist of King Ferdinand IV.’ (Ian d’Agata, 2019, p152). D’Agata says he and other scientific colleagues believe Montepulciano originates in the cold, mountainous Val Peligna (wild bears are found here in an area with one of Europe’s biggest glaciers). He notes his assumption fits with the characteristic of the grape, which can easily accumulate sugars, but struggles to ripen its pip tannins only very slowly. Hence it needs to be planted in colder areas which allow the slow, even ripening required for the best quality wines, D’Agata (ibid.). Stefano Inama (Inama Azienda Agricola in Soave) and Sabatino di Properzio (Fattoria La Valentina) of the Binomio winery say on their website that they ‘believe the Montepulciano variety cultivated in Abruzzo has a Greek or Balkan origin, due to its complex morphological characteristics, vigour, and so on. They believe it became widespread in the very distant past, perhaps even in pre-Roman times, when it made its home in the Peligna Valley between the villages of Raiano and Sulmona, which may have been colonized by Paeligni people coming from Asia Minor or Illyria in approximately the 12th century BC.

‘Montepulciano. Susceptible to oidium, it is not especially disease resistant (eg compared to Pecorino). It hates water stress. A sugar pump. But tannins ripen very slowly. Really needs a terroir for long hang time, a late site. Warm marine winds speed up ripening, but not of the pips. Montepulciano’s pips ripen very slowly = asynchronally–see below. Wines with green tannins get dumped into oak to cover that unripen note. Huge range of wines.  The best wines are made in stainless steel or neutral (non-oak) tanks can show flinty influences. Italy’s best rosé wines,’ (Ian D’Agata in NY on 28th June 2017).

Asynchronous maturation | D’Agata (2019, p.152) also highlights another potential problem, namely Montepulciano’s tendency to manifest asynchronous maturation, with grapes of different colours on the same bunch, indicating different ripeness levels. Trying subsequently to cover up unripe pip tannins with new oak from barrel ageing can compound the initial problem (Ian d’Agata, 2019, p153).

Where grown | Abruzzo. | Lazio. | Le Marche. | Molise. | Tuscany. | Puglia. | Umbria.

DOC Wines | Biferno DOC (Molise). | Castel del Monte DOC (Puglia). | Castelli Romani DOC (Lazio). | Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo DOC (Abruzzo). | Colline Teramane Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOCG (Abruzzo). | Controguerra DOC (Abruzzo). | Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC (Abruzzo). | Rosso Conero DOC (Le Marche). | Rosso Piceno DOC (Le Marche).

DOCG Wines | Cònero DOCG (Le Marche). | Offida DOCG (Le Marche).

Terroir | Prefers clay soils. Versatile, grows well in both lower altitude maritime and higher altitude mountain zones.

Viticulture | Not especially disease-hardy. Uneven ripening. Late ripening, mid- to late October in the Cònero (see link above). Hard to get the seeds ripe. Pergola trained vines are often blamed for exacerbating Montepulciano’s uneven ripening via high yields resulting in low quality, neutral-tasting wines.

Clones | R7 Once widely planted. Risk of marked pyrizines when unripe. | R100 Subject to millerandage, but gives high quality grapes.

Quality potential | Big, hearty wines. ‘Generally a workhorse grape, thoroughbred potential,’ (Ian d’Agata, 2014, p345).

Winemaking | Oak ageing can be overdone (eg to give the wine a non-reductive environment in which to lose reductive notes). See the Cònero DOCG for Ian D’Agata’s comments.

Wine style | With notably high levels of anthocyanins Montepulciano’s red wines have deep colours, and the pink or Cerasuolo version from Abruzzo is ‘more like a pale-medium red than pink,’ even with minimal contact between grape skin and juice (Ian d’Agata, 2019, p152). Montepulciano’s deep colour and robust tannins make it a popular blending ingredient (Oxford Companion to Wine 2015, p. 474).

Body | Full-bodied, hearty.

Flavours | The reason typical flavours include fruity red cherry rather than floral notes is due to specific aroma compounds, research has shown (Ian d’Agata, 2019, p153). Other flavours: Plum, herbs, earthiness, shoe polish. The Montepulciano grape can taste medicinal, or like fruit liqueur (under grape spirit) we were told by someone from the Moncaro co-op on Sunday 04th September 2016 at the Palazzo Honorati-Carotti in Jesi.

Reduction | Montepulciano can be very reductive (like Dolcetto), and this needs to be addressed early on (by aeration) because reduced notes become harder to shift later on.

Astringency | Montepulciano can show astringency if the pips are not ripe. Ageability Seen as lacking the complexity to improve over more than a decade in bottle.

Not to be confused with | Montepulciano has been confused with two Tuscan varieties, Pugnitello (a totally different grape) and Sangiovese (also a totally different variety). Two red wine denominations in Tuscany called Rosso di Montepulciano DOC and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano DOCG are made mainly from the Sangiovese grape. In this case Montepulciano refers to the name of a town the wine is grown and made in.

Bibliography

Dr Ian d’Agata, Italy’s Native Wine Grape Terroirs (University of California Press, 2019).

Dr Ian d’Agata, Native Wine Grapes of Italy (University of California Press, 2014).

Italian Wine Unplugged (Positive Press, 2017), p.115-116.

Oxford Companion to Wine 3rd edition ed. Jancis Robinson MW (Oxford University Press, 2006).

Oxford Companion to Wine 4th edition ed. Jancis Robinson MW and Julia Harding MW (Oxford University Press, 2015).