Origin: AbruzzoGrape: Montepulciano (plump, spherical grapes with purple coloring)Flavors: Red Plum, Oregano, Sour Cherry, Boysenberry, TobaccoNotable Regions: Abruzzo, Marche, Molise, Puglia Sweetness: DryBody: Medium-FullTannins: HighAcidity: HighABV: 11.5-13.5%
Montepulciano is one of Italy’s most popular red wine grapes due to its reliability, high yield, and easy-to-drink taste. It’s extremely popular with producers and consumers alike.
One of the most famous Montepulciano wines is known as Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, produced in the Abruzzo region of Eastern Italy. This medium-body red wine flourishes along the mountainous terrain in the west and sunlight in the east to create the plump grapes ready for harvest.
All four provinces of Abruzzo produce Montepulciano in high volumes. Montepulciano’s finest examples come from Teramo’s northern province, exhibiting naturally high acidity, tannin, and alcohol levels. However, Italy is not the only place Montepulciano, as it’s also produced in California, New Zealand, and Australia.
History mentions Montepulciano in the 2nd century AD when the famous General Hannibal gave his army wine made from Montepulciano to heal and strengthen their wounds. The general even went so far as to bathe his horses in the wine believing it would make them invincible.
Montepulciano is a native grape of Valle Peligna in the region of Abruzzo. The most well-known Montepulciano-based wine is produced here: The Montepulciano D’Abruzzo DOC. Under this denomination, this wine must contain at least 85% Montepulciano grapes and have an alcohol percentage of 12% or above.
Montepulciano is the main grape behind everyone's favorite Italian Red Wine, Montepulciano d'Abruzzo.
The History of Montepulciano
Montepulciano originated in central Italy, with the first historical report of the wine dating back to 1793. However, it was not until the late 20th and early 21st century that Montepulciano became Italy’s most widely exported indigenous grape variety after Sangiovese. Montepulciano is now one of Italy’s most popular red wine grapes due to its reliably high yields and easy-to-drink wine, making it popular with producers and consumers alike.
The most famous Montepulciano wine is known as Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, which is produced in the Abruzzo region of Eastern Italy. With mountainous terrain in the west, dry breezes, and sunlight in the east, high volumes of Montepulciano are grown on the low hills — the perfect recipe for ripe, plump grapes.
While all four provinces of Abruzzo produce Montepulciano, the grape is often grown in excessively high volumes, which can produce some lesser quality wines. The finest examples of Montepulciano come from the northern province of Teramo due to the area’s less fertile soils, more ferrous clay and limestone, and high elevation.
These wines exhibit the grape’s naturally high acidity, tannin, and alcohol. However, Italy is not the only place for Montepulciano, as this wine is produced in California, New Zealand, and Australia.
It is important to note that Montepulciano is both a grape variety and the name of a village in Tuscany. For this reason, Montepulciano is commonly confused with Vino Nobile di Montepulciano — but don’t get them mixed up! While Montepulciano is a red wine produced with grapes of the same name, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is a red wine produced with Sangiovese grapes in Tuscany.
Montepulciano Taste and Flavor
Montepulciano is known for its deep color, powerful tannins, and fairly high acidity. With strong aromas and flavors, the most notable flavors of Montepulciano include hints of oregano, pepper, tobacco, and black fruits. However, the taste of this rustic wine can be dramatically influenced by how it is aged.
Using oak barrels to ferment the wine is a very common practice, dating back to the early days of Roman wine-making. When wine is aged in oak barrels, it develops flavors from the wood.
These barrels can also be toasted to varying degrees, adding a smoky or toasty flavor to the wine. For this reason, oak-aged Montepulciano exhibits a taste of chocolate, vanilla, and mocha, in addition to black fruit flavors such as boysenberry, blackberry, and prune. The rich taste of oak-aged Montepulciano makes it a more popular choice abroad.
After the first year of use, oak barrels can quickly lose their flavoring ability, turning them into neutral. Neutral barrels allow oxygen to be introduced into the wine more slowly, resulting in a softening effect. However, this fermentation process can take quite a long time.
To allow for more drinkability in the wine’s earlier years, some producers of Montepulciano create blends or rosatos by having less contact with the grape skins during fermentation. Because of this, neutral-aged Montepulciano has strong red fruit flavors such as sour cherry, red plum, and cranberry, supported by subtle notes of dried herbs and earthy tones.
Montepulciano Food Pairings
Due to its naturally high acidity and ripe tannins, Montepulciano pairs well with savory foods, including meats, pizzas, and tomato-based pasta. But why?
Acidity is an important component of wine pairing due to the ways that it can heighten certain flavors. While rich foods can coat the mouth, making it hard for other flavors to shine, wines with higher acidity can cut through the richness. Tannin works similarly, stripping fat from the tongue and cleansing the palate with each sip.
The Best Montepulciano Food Pairings
Montepulciano is best enjoyed with hearty, savory dishes, such as beef brisket, hamburgers, beef bolognese, tagliatelle, ragu, and high-protein pizzas. It’s also a great option for grill enthusiasts, pairing well with smoked or barbecued meats. For a bonus, meat seasoned with sage, basil, rosemary, or thyme will compliment the wine’s herbal and earthy tones.
Meat dishes are not the only pairing for Montepulciano. It can be a tasty addition to rich, roasted vegetables offered during winter, including baked potatoes, mushrooms, beetroot, and tomatoes, making it a perfect wine for colder weather. When it comes to cheese, try a glass of Montepulciano with aged cheddar, asiago, or parmesan.
Looking for a great wine to enjoy with Asian food? Pair Montepulciano with savory dishes seasoned with garlic, sesame, ginger, or soy sauce for a perfect match. This wine is for you if you like to eat Korean barbeque or Peking duck.
Food Pairings to Avoid With Montepulciano
Pairing Montepulciano with the wrong foods can combine ingredients and flavors that overwhelm your palate. When enjoying Montepulciano, avoiding light and simple dishes, like salads and raw fish, is best. Spicy foods do not usually pair well either, as they can make the wine very bitter or increase the taste of alcohol.
Montepulciano in a Nutshell
Overall, Montepulciano is a popular red wine with bold tastes and rustic flavors. With notes of fruit, herbs, and tobacco, it’s no wonder this easy-to-drink wine has made Montepulciano one of Italy’s most widely exported grapes! Widely enjoyed by wine enthusiasts and casual drinkers alike, Montepulciano is a substantial value wine that is both delicious and sophisticated.
Enjoy a glass with your favorite pizzas, pasta, or meat dishes — you simply can’t go wrong with this versatile variety.
Ready to learn more? Don't forget to check out our other wine guides:Red Wine Guide
Sparkling Wine Guide
White Wine Guide
Rosé Wine Guide
Dessert Wine Guide