After Sangiovese, Montepulciano is Italy’s second most widely dispersed indigenous grape variety. But interestingly, Montepulciano isn’t even grown in the vineyards surrounding the village of Montepulciano in Southern Tuscany! However, it is widely planted everywhere else throughout central and southern Italy. The grape name Montepulciano likely originated somewhere in Tuscany (located in east-central Italy), where it is often confused with its relative Sangiovese. The many names it can go by don’t help with the confusion – wines made from Montepulciano can be labeled Cordicso, Sangiovese Cordisco, Sangiovese Cardisco, Sangiovetto, Montepulciano Cordesco, and Morellone, among others. This grape isn’t planted much in Northern Italy, as it is prone to late ripening and can contain green, unripe aromas if harvested too early. Another source of confusion is the wine Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, which is named after the village “Montepulciano” in Southern Tuscany. Vino Nobile di Montepulciano is a blend made from mostly Sangiovese and a few other types of grape varietals grown in the vineyards surrounding the village – it doesn’t actually contain any Montepulciano grapes.
This cultivar is most well-known in Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, but is also used to make wines or blends from many other regions as well. Abruzzo is a region in Italy with mountainous terrain to the west and dry breezes and significant sun exposure from the Adriatic sea to the east. The vineyards grow on the rugged hills right in between – the perfect recipe for beautiful, ripe grapes. Other locations well suited for Montepulciano are New Zealand, Australia, and California in the United States.
The dark grape contains many pigmented phenolic compounds that can produce anywhere from a deep ruby to an inky red wine with maceration. Montepulciano is known for its naturally high acidity and medium high tannins, as well as its high yields and low skin to juice ratio. It’s often described as smooth and drinkable, with notes of plum, pepper, sour cherry, boysenberry, and spice. Montepulciano can improve for three of four years after production and is often aged to round out tannins and mouthfeel. The rustic, aromatic character of Montepulciano makes it great to pair with rich, savory meals. Two main styles of Montepulciano wine include oak-aged Montepulciano or neutral Montepulciano. Oak-aged often presents deep black fruit flavors and oak aromas such as cocoa and vanilla. Neutral Montepulciano presents more red fruit and raspberry jam aromas with subtle notes of violet and dried herbs.
You can also find Montepulciano grapes made into Cerasuolo style wine, which translates to “cherry-red.” The high color profile of the purple grapes makes it ideal for making this bright, aromatic rosato (Rosé). Cerasuolo is often medium bodied and hearty, even with a short amount of skin contact. It contains notes of orange peel, cinnamon, strawberry, and dried cherries.
We've had the opportunity to feature Montepulciano wines in our International Wine Club! Be sure to keep your eye open for this varietal in our other 6 Wine of the Month Clubs too.