Montelpulciano can be a bit confusing because there are wines made of Sangiovese (the same grape in Chianti) labelled as Vino de Nobile Montepulciano. The wines made from the red grape Montepulciano are labelled as Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and must consist of a minimum 85% Montepulciano (the remaining portion is commonly Sangiovese). Even more confusing are that both are from the Central area of Italy, Vino de Nobile from the town of Montepulciano in Tuscany (north of Rome) and d’Abruzzo from the Abruzzo region east of Rome, on the Eastern coast of Italy along the Adriatic Sea. Montelpulciano makes a wonderfully food friendly red wine that is often overlooked for more famous Chianti or Super Tuscans (blends of Sangiovese with grapes that were originally not allowed in Chianti like Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Merlot to name a few). It is the second most planted red grape in Italy, where virtually all of its plantings are located in the world (there are minute amounts planted in Argentina, the US, New Zealand and Australia). Montepulciano wines consist of moderate levels of alcohol, acid and tannin, along with bold black fruit notes. There are easy drinking types that have limited aging and less complexity or there are the bottles with extended aging (Riserva) that are heavier in style. These heavier bottles are wonderful with heartier dishes like ratatouille, shepherd’s pie, bbq beef or roasted pork (or even dark chocolate). The region of Abruzzo is known for pork and lamb dishes.
Montepulciano is an indigenous grape to Italy and dates back to, well, a very long time! There are documented writings from Polybius describing the wines from the grape in 206 BC. It got its present day name in the seventeenth century. In 1968, the DOC of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo was established. The vines grow with ease on the rolling hills in lower altitudes near the coast. The vines produce large, juice filled grapes, which leads to high yields of wine. This high yield has been quite beneficial to the farmers in this poor region (It is common to sell grape crops based on weight). Unlike many other grapes, Montepulciano quality doesn’t suffer from the higher yields. This is a very common wine to drink throughout Italy with only around 10% of bottles produced being exported.
This week’s pairing will be for all those busy, exhausted parents out there that, after a long day, only have the energy to microwave something for their kids for dinner while they open a bottle of wine. After much thought, I decided to pair a 2019 Umani Ronchi Montepulciano d’Abruzzo with pizza rolls! Specifically, Kroger brand combination pizza rolls. A few months ago, a friend asked me to taste test the major brands and store brands to determine the best. The Kroeger was substantially better than the competition in texture, taste, and retaining the filling during the heating process. Montepulciano is wonderful with pizza or tomato based dishes so this seemed to be an ‘ideal’ Tuesday night dinner…or as ideal as pizza rolls for dinner can be! The nearly opaque wine had long legs that moved at the pace of a sloth down the sides of my glass. Upon sticking my nose into the goblet, I could discern aromas of cranberry, red currant, red cherries, rosemary, eucalyptus and dark chocolate. This medium bodied dry wine was crisp with a vibrant acidity and moderate levels of tannin and alcohol. The acid levels in the wine matched those of the tomato sauce. The herbal notes in the wine became more pronounced when combined with the tomato sauce as well. The perception of the soft tannins was even more subdued when consumed with fats in the pizza rolls. The taste of the wine leaves the palate before the pizza rolls do but that is to be expected for a wine that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Overall, this whimsical and effortless pairing was exactly what a night in the middle of the week calls for!