Since we're covering Tuscany and its wines as this month's assignment-in-pleasure over on our Wine Tasting 101 Forum, let's pull a cork and pour a glass as we try to clear up the distinction between two of the region's more confusingly similar place names: Montalcino and Montepulciano.
The names sound just similar enough to be a bit bewildering to English speakers, and the sturdy red wines of the regions bear a kinship, too, being made of Sangiovese, the same grape that predominates in Chianti.
The similar-sounding Montalcino ("Moan-tahl-CHEE-noe") is another ancient region with both an Etruscan and Roman heritage. It lies south of Siena, a bit to the west of Montepulciano, and its top red wine is Brunello di Montalcino, an appellation that many wine enthusiasts - including me - rank among Italy's very best. Another source of possible confusion arises here: Brunello's grape is proudly called "Brunello," but it's actually Sangiovese, too, a unique and identifiable clone. Rosso di Montalcino is to Brunello as Rosso di Montepulciano is to Vino Nobile: A similar wine made in the same region from similar grapes, but under less restrictive regulations that foster the production of a simpler, lighter, less ageworthy wine that's meant for early drinking and immediate enjoyment.
Got all that? Now here's one more kicker: Don't confuse Rosso di Montepulciano with Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, a modest but approachable red wine made in the Abruzzi, not Tuscany, from a widely planted grape variety named Montepulciano that has nothing to do with Sangiovese.
Did you ever wonder why some people think Italian wine is confusing!
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Casale 2002 "Daviddi" Rosso di Montepulciano ($16)
Very dark garnet. Bing cherries and brown spices with a back note of something warmer, prunes and black raisins. Mouth-filling and juicy, ripe black fruit and a lemon-squirt of acidity; opens up to even more forward black and red cherries as the wine airs in the glass. Flavors consistent in a long, clean finish. U.S. importer: Vintner Select, Cincinnati, and other regional importers; a Marc di Grazia selection. (Oct. 6, 2005)
FOOD MATCH: Italian sausage and rapini over rigatoni pasta.
VALUE: Fine value, particularly considering the rising price of European wines with the strong Euro.
WHEN TO DRINK: Not intended for long-term aging, but it should drink well for at least a few years.
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Friday, Oct. 7, 2005