This article was published in The 30 Second Wine Advisor on Wednesday, Sep. 12, 2007 and can be found at http://www.wineloverspage.com/wineadvisor2/tswa20070912.php.
Montepulciano high and low
Vino Nobile di Montepulciano ("The Noble Wine of Montepulciano") is named for the ancient Tuscan village that the region's vineyards surround. It's an upscale cousin of Chianti made from the same grapes as Chianti (Sangiovese, Canaiolo and others) in a small part of Tuscany close to Umbria near Lake Trasimeno.
The other Montepulciano - usually more affordable if not earning quite as much respect - is made a long way from Tuscany in Abruzzo, on the Adriatic across Italy from Rome. Montepulciano d'Abruzzo is named for the grape from which the wine is made, sharing a name but having nothing else to do with the Tuscan village or its wine.
Montepulciano d'Abruzzo generally sells in the U.S. for $12 or less, in my experience, and often for well under $10; only a few sought-after, artisanal producers can command much more. Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, on the other hand, is rarely found below the middle to upper teens and often sells for $20 or more.
For today's tasting, we compare and contrast a low-end Montepulciano d'Abruzzo from Farnese, a mass-market producer, against a higher-price artisanal bottling from Bruno Nicodemi that costs well over twice the toll.
Would the inexpensive wine prove to be a bargain value? Or would the higher price justify itself in quality? After sampling the wines separately, rated both by themselves and with similar red-meat food matches, I'd judge both wines enjoyable and appropriately priced. In this particular instance - it doesn't always work out this way - I'd rather have one bottle of the complex, structured and interesting Nicodemi than two bottles of the relatively thin, tart and rough-textured Farnese.
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Nicodemi 2003 "Dei Colli Venia" Montepulciano d'Abruzzo ($19)
Inky dark garnet, almost black. Black plums, leather and subtle spice. Mouth-filling and ripe, flavors follow the nose; full, juicy black fruit, pleasant earthy undertones, mouth-watering acidity and a soft edge of tannins. Structured and appealing, hefty but not overwhelming or hot at a rational 13.5% alcohol. U.S. importer: North Berkeley Imports, Berkeley, Calif. (Sept. 10, 2007)
FOOD MATCH: Excellent with pepper-crusted, medium-rare pan-seared rib eyes garnished with fresh chopped tomatoes.
VALUE: Complexity and flavor interest justify a price close to the top end for Montepulciano d'Abruzzo.
WHEN TO DRINK: Montepulciano d'Abruzzo of this structure and quality is capable of improving for a decade or more under very good cellar conditions, but it's certainly enjoyable now.
WEB LINK: The importer's Website features this short article about Bruno Nicodemi, with links to several of his wines including the 2003 Montepulciano d'Abruzzo.
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Farnese 2005 "Farneto Valley" Montepulciano d'Abruzzo Colline Teramane ($8.49)
Black plums and pepper flirt with a distinct leafy, sappy green edge in the aroma; on the palate it's light and quite tart, simple black fruit with an acidic edge that brings it up to meet food. On the simple side, some might call it "coarse," but it's the kind of fun and food-friendly cheap Italian red that takes me back a long way in memoryland. U.S. importer: Empson (U.S.A.) Inc., Alexandria, Va. (Sept. 6, 2007)
FOOD MATCH: The wine's rustic, acidic flavor profile makes it a natural with medium-rare rib eye steaks.
VALUE: Quaffable if hardly inspiring, it's fairly priced in this low-end niche.
WHEN TO DRINK: A wine meant to be enjoyed, not aged, it's best to drink it up over the next year or two.
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