Culinary Arts

Learn About Montepulciano: Grape, Characteristics, Wines, and How to Pair Montepulciano

Written by MasterClass

Jun 18, 2019 • 3 min read

Montepulciano is a classic, Italian wine grape and one of the most wide widely planted grapes in the country. The grape makes deeply red wines and is adaptable to traditional or modern winemaking styles. Montepulciano makes the famous wine Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, the rustic, medium-bodied red wine of central Italy.

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What Is Montepulciano?

Montepulciano is a red grape variety indigenous to Italy. It is the second-most widely planted red grape in Italy, after sangiovese. The grape plays a role in many flavorful yet easy-drinking wines that pair well with food, especially pizza.

Where Does Montepulciano Grow?

Montepulciano grows throughout Italy, with concentrations along the Adriatic coast in the Abruzzo and Marche regions in central Italy, and in Puglia and Molise in southern Italy. The grape needs a long growing season to ripen fully, so the sunny climates of the central and southern parts of the country suit it best. When grown in cooler northern Italy, montepulciano can taste unpleasantly green and underripe.

The regions that grow montepulciano have traditionally blended it with a smaller percentage of other native Italian grapes. Italian appellation law attempts to maintain the traditional character of these wines, so montepulciano must make up the majority of the blend in a number of appellations where the grape has long been grown, including:

  • Biferno DOC in Molise
  • Esino DOC in Marche
  • Rosso Conero DOC in Marche
  • Conero DOCG in Marche
  • Offida DOCG in Marche
  • Controguerra DOC in Abruzzo
  • Montepulciano d'Abruzzo DOC in Abruzzo
  • Montepulciano d'Abruzzo Colline Teramane DOCG in Abruzzo
  • San Severo DOC in Puglia

It is permitted as a lesser blending grape in dozens of other DOCs.

What Are the Characteristics of Montepulciano?

Montepulciano is a late-ripening grape that has thick skin, resulting in a richly colored purple wine. It can be quite concentrated with bold tannins when grown with care, but is more likely to be rather thin if allowed to over-produce in the vineyard. The grape usually shows elevated acidity and moderate alcohol.

What Wines are Made With the Montepulciano Grape?

  • Montepulciano d’Abruzzo: The montepulciano grape is is usually blended with other indigenous Italian red grapes in dry red wines. Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, the most famous wine made predominantly from montepulciano, is permitted to contain up to 15% sangiovese.
  • Barrel aged: Montepulciano-based wines are generally made in one of two styles: the more common style is aged in neutral oak or stainless steel and can be found for under $20 in a retail store. Higher priced (up to $50) montepulciano wines are made in the modern “international” style, which uses small oak barriques for aging, à la Bordeaux.
  • Riserva: Montepulciano wines labeled Riserva must be aged for at least three years, with six months of that time spent in oak barrels.
  • Rosé: Montepulciano is also made into a dark rosé wine called Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo.

How Does Montepulciano Taste?

Montepulciano wines are similar to other medium-bodied Italian reds like sangiovese, nerello mascalese, or dolcetto. Simple, inexpensive examples of montepulciano wine have dark fruit flavors like:

  • Boysenberry
  • Black cherry
  • Plum
  • Seasoned with dried herbs like oregano.

Higher quality wines made with montepulciano grapes have more concentrated fruit flavors and more tannin, along with chocolate and clove notes from new oak.

What Is the Difference Between Montepulciano and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano?

Montepulciano (the grape) is often confused with the DOCG wine Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, which is made primarily of sangiovese grapes in the town Montepulciano, Tuscany. The wine Vino Nobile di Montepulciano does not contain any montepulciano grapes. In fact, despite being of Tuscan origin and a relative of the sangiovese grape, montepulciano grapes are not grown in the town of Montepulciano.

How Do You Pair and Serve Montepulciano?

More expensive montepulciano wines with lots of new oak can age for a five to ten years but in general, montepulciano is a wine best drunk young. It pairs well with the popular dishes of central and southern Italy like pizza, bolognese, and tomato-based sauces. The wine’s tannins and acidity can cut through rich, fatty braises and cheesy pasta dishes. Try montepulciano with goat or rack of lamb to highlight its savory side.

Learn more about wine appreciation in James Suckling’s MasterClass.