Friday, February 25, 2022

Montepulciano Wine Showdown Highlights Beauty Of This Italian Grape

An epic wine throwdown showcases an Italian grape you shouldn’t overlook.

Battle Of The Wines

When Dathan Kazsuk and Jen Primrose host a wine tasting, it is not to be missed. They are the creative forces behind Triangle Around Town, the popular website that features wine, beer, food, and travel with an emphasis on North Carolina and the Raleigh area. The theme on this occasion was Montepulciano.

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Montepulciano is the second most widely-planted red grape in Italy. It’s second in parade order behind Sangiovese. Montepulciano is gaining a foothold in the US and in North Carolina as well. The Old North State has at least a couple of wineries that specialize in Italian varieties and do a bang-up job: Raffaldini and Piccione.

This was a blind tasting of six Montepulciano wines paired with pizza – which is a highly rated food and wine combination. A couple other great wines were worked in as well.

First of all, it’s difficult to dislike any bottle of Montepulciano. The most famous area for Montepulciano is the Abruzzo region in central Italy. In fact, all the “Monte” was from Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC with one exception. Arthur and Mary Barham (of Merlot2Muscadine) brought a shining example from North Carolina. I almost committed a major error. As I grabbed a bottle for the tasting from the top shelf at the wine shop, I mistakenly latched on to a bottle of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. This was a rookie mistake that I’ll blame on rushing. Vino Nobile is actually a Sangiovese clone that comes from the town of Montepulciano. In an ironic twist, no Montepulciano grapes are grown in the town of Montepulciano.

Here’s the breakdown from this momentous tasting, shown in the random order we tried them.

Masciarelli “Marina Cvetic” Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Riserva 2017

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This 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. Cherry notes prevailed with medium tannins that added a drying element. It is an elegant and relaxed wine with violet highlights. The finish was short. SRP $21.99. Panel ranking: 5 of 6.

Raffaldini Montepulciano Riserva 2015, Swan Creek

Coming from a famed North Carolina winery, this was also the highest-priced bottle at $35. Its flavor was in contrast to the other five wines, with an aggressive, zingy intensity. Some of that may have to do with the 15.10% ABV. The wine is deep and dark, perhaps due to Raffaldini’s use of the appassimento process of using partially dried grapes. Great tastes of raspberry and spice. Panel ranking: 3 of 6.

Dragani Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2019

Ruby and purple in the glass, this has tastes of dark fruit and a bit of spice. This was much lighter than the two wines we tasted prior. This wasn’t impressive and, in fact, was sort of “blah.” SRP $13.99. Panel ranking: 6 of 6.

Torre Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2017

Deep garnet color in the glass with a light rim variation, this wine really demonstrated great balance. Torre had a slightly sour and tangy taste of black cherry and plum. There’s also a touch of baking spice. I found this to be a nice pairing with our vegetarian pizza. SRP $12.99. Panel ranking: 4 of 6.

Cantina Zaccagnini Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2019

At this point in the tasting, I don’t think anyone could pronounce “Zaccagnini,” luckily we were tasting it blind so this was good ol’ Number Five. Opaque ruby in the glass, this one provided sizzle and tang on the palate. The flavors are bright and carefree red fruit and crushed cherries. The finish is dry and smooth. A young wine, but aging could make it even better. SRP $16. Panel ranking: 2 of 6.

La Fiera Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2020

This is a medium-light-bodied wine that’s deep ruby-red in color. There is a fruity aroma and a sour cherry palate. The tannins and alcohol are dialed back in this pleasant sipper. SRP $9. Panel ranking: 1 of 6.

Montepulciano Musings

First, major thanks to Dathan and Jen for hosting the tasting and rounding up the lion’s share of the wine. This was a fun exploration of a great grape. The results were eye-opening. First, the group really enjoyed the North Carolina Montepulciano and recognized it as being different from all the other Monte wines. I actually rated it as my second favorite.

The other takeaway is that price isn’t everything when selecting your wine. The top-ranked wine was the least expensive. Even though I rated it as my least favorite, it captured enough points from the other panelists to rise to a first-place position. For the record, I selected the Torre Montepulciano as my top pick, just edging out Raffaldini. The Torre is only $12.99, so there are plenty of bargains out there for Montepulciano.

Montepulciano is a great pick for a smooth red Italian wine without the extremes of heavy tannins or jarring acidity. Not only is it an easy-to-like grape, but the price tag is easy to swallow as well.


ArthurB said...

What a great tasting experience this was! Sipping exceptional wines while surrounded by wine blogger "royalty", what's not to love? And, when is the next tasting?

Dave Nershi, CSW said...

Arthur - It was a wonderful tasting, wasn't it? Stay tuned for the next special event! Cheers...