“I had a really nice Italian red last week” a friend said to me recently; “it was called Monty-something”. He looked expectantly as if he was hoping that I would immediately fill the gap. A dozen ‘Monte’s’ sprang to mind; fortunately, my 3rd guess brought a smile of recognition: ‘yes, that was it – Montepulciano’. But, there’s not one Montepulciano but two. Because, like Chardonnay, Montepulciano is both the name of a grape variety and of a wine producing village. That wouldn’t be a problem if, like Chardonnay (which is grown in the village of the same name in southern Burgundy), the village of Montepulciano (in Tuscany) actually grew the grape Montepulciano. It doesn’t! It grows Sangiovese, the Chianti grape. To find the grape Montepulciano, you need to look further east where Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is the most common example. Confused? My friend was!
I tried to describe the differences: Montepulciano, the grape, tends to be quite soft and fruity, often with flavours of plums or cherries and usually fairly easy drinking. I frequently describe it as the perfect Spaghetti Bolognese wine. On the other hand, Montepulciano, the village, produces 2 wines: Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and its junior brother, Rosso di Montepulciano. Vino Nobile (‘the noble wine’) is fashionable and so not cheap (think £25 plus). It also tends to need a good few years before it is ready to drink but the cheaper Rosso is often a good buy, particularly from a reputable producer.
I opened a bottle from Poliziano recently (Great Western Wines, £14.95).
It had lovely flavours of dried fruits and cooked plums, black olives, chocolate and a certain smokiness. At a little over 2 years old, it still had quite noticeable tannins but decanted and accompanying a meal, these softened nicely, although a couple of years extra ageing would be an advantage.
But, back to the problem: is there a way to tell if a name is a grape or a place – or neither? A tip that works for many Italian wines: look if there is a ‘d’ or ‘di’ or ‘della’ on the label. It means ‘from’. So, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is the noble wine from the named village whereas Montepulciano d’Abruzzo denotes the grape from the region of Abruzzo. Simple!
And, by the way, my friend still doesn’t know which Montepulciano he enjoyed!