Montepulciano vs. Montepulciano
Recently, while hosting cheese and wine pairings, I have had several guests at 4.0 Cellars get excited when served a Montepulciano wine because they, at some point in the past, visited the village of Montepulciano in Tuscany, Italy. However, the Montepulciano grape that makes the wine is quite different from, and not connected to Montepulciano, the place. Read on to understand this interesting point of confusion in the wine world.
Montepulciano, the grape, is widely grown in Italy, primarily cultivated on the eastern side of the Italian peninsula, and also in the more central and southern regions of Italy. The primary regions that grow Montepulciano include Abruzzo, Marche, Umbria, Molise, Latium (around Rome), Emilia-Romagna (north of Tuscany and Abruzzo) and Apulia (the heel of the “Italian boot”). There is also some Montepulciano grown in the Tuscany region, home of Chianti, but the grape is not used in producing Chianti wines. Some of the more famous wines made from Montepulciano fall under the following DOC and DOCG appellations: Montepulciano d’Abruzzo in Abruzzo; Offida Rosso, Rosso Conero and Rosso Piceno in Marche.
The Montepulciano grape can produce well-colored red wines that maintain good acidity when fully ripened, even in hotter climates. The Montepulciano grape has caught on here in Texas because it can flourish in hot, arid regions to produce rich red wines with plenty of flavor and generous alcohol levels, all while maintaining good acidity. As in Italy, Montepulciano is often used in Texas as a blending grape, but several Lone Star vintners produce wines that contain either 100% or predominately this variety.
Montepulciano, the place, is a small wine appellation located south of the main Chianti region of Tuscany on the western side of the Italian peninsula. The heart of this region is a beautiful, historic hill town, named Montepulciano, that rests on top of a ridge at about 2,000 ft. elevation. The village is located about 80 miles south of Florence and 120 miles north of Rome. The famous wine produced here is Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, made primarily from the Sangiovese grape which is also the primary grape used to produce Chianti wines. So far as I understand, the Montepulciano grape is not allowed in Vino Nobile di Montepulciano wines (got that?).
In addition to its famous wines, Montepulciano is also a major tourist destination. The ancient city walls and historic buildings are popular sights for visitors. Its geographic position and high elevation made the village a key place for protection and trade throughout history. There is a well-known spa in Montepulciano, and a traditional barrel race is run through the city streets each August. In this Bravio of the barrels, contestants from several neighboring regions attempt to be the first to roll/push heavy barrels uphill to the finish line. Of course, there is much cheering, jeering and wine drinking associated with this event.
Now, when you see or taste a Texas wine made from or containing Montepulciano, you will know the difference between the grape and the village in Tuscany with the same name. A number of Texas wine merchants have available examples of both Italian Montepulciano wines and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano wines made from Sangiovese, in case you want to compare. But, more importantly, look for Texas grown and Texan made Montepulciano wines when visiting the tasting rooms in various Texas wine regions.