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Recession Refreshment: Montepulciano

Despite all the bailouts and interest rate tweaking, matters have not much improved since the my first RR installment. I tell ya what, that was one crappy holiday shopping season, and the government certainly is throwing around a lot of money we don't have. And do you think this business between Israel and Palestine is gonna drive gas prices up again? Whoa, this is getting pretty heavy... I think we could all use a drink, and what do you say we keep it cheap? Here are a few more undervalued wines, this time from eastern Italy, featuring the grape Montepulciano.

I love Italian wines, so don't misunderstand me when I say that they are a bitch to get a handle on. Italy is estimated to have some 2,000 native varietals, the most of which you and I have never heard. On top of this, the Italian system of nomenclature is a convoluted disaster, wherein some wines are named for their region of origin, some for the dominant grape, some for both, and some for no apparent reason whatsoever. Our subject today suffers more than most from this system, in that the most prestigious wine of the moniker — Vino Nobile di Montepulciano — contains not a drop of the eponymous grape's juice.

Where the Sangiovese based Vino Nobile is as expensive and rare as its name implies, most wines made from Montepulciano are humble and rustic. Though authorized in about a third of Italy's winegrowing districts, Montepulciano calls the Adriatic coast its home, where it is the primary red grape of Abruzzo. Wines from this rocky coastal region have long been regarded as grocery store grade plonk, worse even than that crap they make over in Chianti! Increased marketing and modern labeling are changing this, but thankfully, the wines remain inexpensive. Body weights run from light to heavy, and flavors may vary, though all are variations on the general theme of earth and acid, making them fantastic food wines.

Stella_3Even being dirt cheap and ubiquitous, the Stella Montepulciano d'Abruzzo 2007 is a nice little bottle of wine. This wine is rusty red in appearance, and has a pleasant nose of dusty red fruit and iron. Unfocused red fruit persist on the palate along with the flavor of bitter oranges. The finish is tart and soft, with a light, pleasing acidic burn. Though by no means Farnese_2 perfect, this wine is well balanced and makes a wonderful all-purpose food pairer, which is almost unheard among its contemporaries in the $6 price point. For a comparable experience, the Farnese Montepulciano d'Abruzzo 2006 has a similar general profile, with a bit less iron and more earth on the front, and a bit more tannic bite on the finish. This one is also a great bargain at about $10, and is very widely distributed.

Tramanto_2 If you don't mind spending a little bit more money and grilled meats are on the menu, the Lepore 'Tremonto' Montepulciano d'Abruzzo 2006 would be worth a look. This wine is dark ruby in color with a vibrant pink meniscus. After a few minutes of breathing, the nose gives off rich aromas of concentrated cherry, sour blackberry, earth and 'cow pie' (This is the polite wine-tasting term for...well, you know; trust me, its not a bad thing). The flavor on the front is is full of tart apple skins, which gives way to sour cherry in the middle and a tangy, soft tannined finish. Another great buy for about $12; this one would go very well with Drew's smoked chicken recipe.

Bosco As I mentioned earlier, Montepulciano also comes heavier, as it does in the Bosco Montepulciano d'Abruzzo 2003 (about $14). This wine is definitely fuller than the others, and pours a dark, purple-red color. Less fruity than most, the Bosco is all tart cherry and piney spice on the nose, leading to purple fruit and a brisk acidic bite on the front palate. Though relatively big and tannic, the Bosco finishes surprisingly bright and dry, and would make a great match fattier game birds or beef stew.

Bear in mind, all of these wines also pair very well with beans, whether in your favorite Indian preparation, or, if your fortunes go south, eaten cold out of the can by the trash fire at the railway station. Just make sure you don't offer some to Ol' One-Tooth McGee -- spirits set off his hobo rage, and your generosity will only get you a bindle pole to the belly.


Mark Felt

I do love a Montepulciano ... Pie-Tanza in North Arlington serves up a great house Monte (may be the d'Abruzzo, if I'm not mistaken) that compliments their wood-fired pies.


El Radicchio in Rosslyn also serves a great house d'Abruzzo, I've been known to bring a bottle home with me!

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