Wine: A robust Italian with flower power
Repeat after me in your best Italian: Montepulciano. And again. You see, in Italian wine, there's Montepulciano and there's Montepulciano. One is a town in Tuscany, which gives its name to the rather swanky-sounding Vino Nobile di Montepulciano made from Sangiovese, the grape of Chianti, a little further north.
There's also Montepulciano, the grape of humbler repute which has no connection with the aforementioned wine. It is a variety associated with the Adriatic coast at the back of Italy's knee, most famously the Abruzzi region -- hence Montepulciano d'Abruzzo. It also features in the Rosso Conero and Rosso Piceno wines from the neighbouring Marches.
Montepulciano the grape is best known for producing everyday drinking wine styles, rather than a high-falutin' cru. It may be considered more of a Wednesday-night supper partner, but it is important not to underestimate it, because it can shine just as well at a Saturday dinner .
It makes plummy, juicy red wines, combining plenty of crunchy fruit with good structure and weight. In other words, it packs in a lot of character and at modest prices.
Montepulciano d'Abruzzo is an example of the sort of wine that has benefitted from all that modern winemakers bring to the craft, elevating it from its traditionally more rustic reputation to a wine that can deliver a greater elegance.
Its reputation has grown in the past 20-30 years as quality-driven producers, led by Edoardo Valentini and Gianni Masciarelli, decided to put some effort into exploiting Montepulciano's true potential. A dramatic reduction in yields was designed to extract a greater concentration, and experimentation with oak barrels was part of the drive for greater complexity.
Abruzzi is also famous internationally for its saffron, or zafferano, arguably the best in the world. The pungent spice from the crocus flower makes its way into all the local cuisine, which gives an idea of the robust and vibrant flavours that the wine stands up to at the dinner table.
They spice up their pasta with saffron in Abruzzi, and if they are not lapping that up, then they are likely to be enjoying some other mouthwatering speciality, such as game, goat's cheese, pecorino, quail, salami, baby pork on the spit, wild boar or truffles, while sipping a glass of Montepulciano.