Montepulciano Wine Guide

Montepulciano (“mon-ta-pull-channo”) is a medium-bodied red wine grape that is supposed to have originated in central Italy. Montepulciano wines are commonly confused with Vino Nobile de Montepulciano, a regional name for the Sangiovese-based wine in Tuscany.

Montepulciano Wine Guide

Montepulciano is the 2nd most planted red grape in Italy (after Sangiovese) and has had a reputation for low-priced juicy “pizza-friendly” red wines. Fortunately, there are several producers in Abruzzo that have shown the amazing potential of this grape by producing inky, black-fruit driven, chocolatey wines best enjoyed after 4 or more years of aging.

 Food Pairing with Montepulciano

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Medium-bodied red wines like Montepulciano generally pair with a wide variety of foods due to natural elevated acidity. However, with Montepulciano, the robust herbal and tobacco-like flavors with grippy tannin often call for richer and more savory foods. Montepulciano will cut through some of the meatiest meats (like beef brisket) and pair nicely alongside rich, roasted winter vegetables. If you learn only one tip about pairing with Montepulciano, it is to match it with something with substance (fat).

Examples
Meat
Roasted Pork Shoulder, Beef Burgers with Mushrooms, Beef Bolognese, Barbecued Beef Brisket, Beef Tacos, Filipino Beef Adobo, Braised Goat, Shepard’s Pie, Meatloaf, Meat Lover’s Pizza
Cheese
Baked Macaroni and Cheese, Aged Cheddar, Parmesan, Asiago, Pepper Jack
Herb/Spice
Oregano, Thyme, Rosemary, Sage, Coriander, Black Pepper, Cumin, Caraway, Chipotle, Cocoa, Coffee, Balsamic
Vegetable
Stuffed Baked Potato, Southern-style Collard Greens, Black Bean Burgers, Roasted Mushrooms, Pinto Beans, Wild Rice, Winter Beets, Winter Farro, Sunchokes

Regional Montepulciano Wines of Italy

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Looking into the vineyards in the Offida region within the Ascoli Piceno province of Marche. by Offida Rosso

Italian wines are often labeled by region, so here is a guide to the regionally-named wines that are primarily made with the Montepulciano grape:

  • Abruzzo
    • Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC (85% minimum)
    • Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Colline Teramane DOCG (90% minimum)
    • Controguerra Rosso DOC (60% minimum)
  • Marche
    • Rosso Conero DOC (85% minimum)
    • Rosso Piceno DOC (30–70%)
    • Offida Rosso DOCG (85% minimum)
  • Molise
    • Biferno DOC (60–70%)
  • Puglia
    • San Severo Rosso DOC (70% minimum)

Two Profiles of Montepulciano Wine

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holding Montepulciano grapes in the Offida Rosso region of Marche. by Offida Rosso

Producers of Montepulciano wine in Italy generally follow one of 2 winemaking ideologies: those who use new oak to age their wines and those who don’t.

Oak-aged Montepulciano

Oak-aged Montepulciano wines have, by far, garnered the most enthusiastic following abroad due to their richness. These wines exhibit deep black-fruit flavors such as boysenberry, blackberry and prune, licorice, and oaky flavors of cocoa, vanilla and mocha. The wines are inky and sometimes have grippy tannin so look for one with about 4 or so years of age. Expect to spend anywhere from $30–$80 for a great one.

Neutral-aged Montepulciano

Because Montepulciano has a lot of anthocyanin (color) in the skins, some producers make a lighter style or even a rosato (rosé) by having less contact with the skins during fermentation. The wines come out bursting with red fruit flavors of sour cherry, red plum, cranberry and raspberry jam, and are supported with subtle notes of violet, dried herbs, and often an ash-like earthiness. Expect to spend about $9–$15 for a great bottle.

 

How to Choose Champagne

Choosing a bottle of Champagne can be stressful for a couple of different reasons. In the first place, Champagne is not cheap, so it’s not a purchase to fool around with. Additionally, Champagne’s production methods, regional differences, and labeling jargon can make it quite intimidating to most of us. The notes below will help you identify the important things to pay attention to when choosing a bottle of Champagne. So, whether you love a creamy, toasty style of Champagne or like it dry and lean, you’ll be able to pick out your next bottle of Champagne with confidence.

To get started, let’s get one thing out of the way: not all sparkling wine is Champagne. Champagne specifically refers to sparkling wine made in the region of Champagne, France. The reason it’s worth mentioning is because this guide is specifically about this French Champagne. If you’re interested, there are other guides on Cava, Crémant, and Prosecco too.

Sweetness Level

Brut Nature, Extra Brut, Brut, Extra-Dry, Dry, and Doux

Champagne Sweetness Levels Illustrated by Wine Folly
All Champagne is labeled with a word that indicates its sweetness level. The sweetness in Champagne is unlike sweetness in wine because this sweetness comes in the form of a sweetened “dosage” (a mixture of wine and sugar or grape must) that’s added to the wine at the end of its second fermentation (the part that makes the bubbles). The reason there is a dosage in Champagne is because the acidity is usually soo high, the wine would otherwise be undrinkable. Just so you know, most Champagne is produced with a Brut level of sweetness. Here are the sweetness terms and what they mean:

Brut Nature
Bone Dry (0–3 g/L sugar). No added sweetness with 0–2 sugar calories per 5/oz serving. 
Extra Brut
Bone Dry (0–6 g/L sugar). A touch of added sweetness to balance Champagne’s naturally high acidity. 0–5 sugar calories per glass.
Brut
Dry (0–12 g/L sugar). The average Champagne dosage is usually around 6–10 g/L which adds body to the Champagne although, coupled with the high acidity level, it will taste dry or even bone dry. Brut Champagne adds just 5–7 sugar calories per glass.
Extra Dry
Fruity (12–17 g/L sugar). The level of sweetness is still low enough that Extra Dry Champagne will usually taste mostly dry, but with a distinctly more fruit-forward character. Adds 7–10 sugar calories per 5 oz pour.
Dry
Off-Dry (17–32 g/L sugar). A fruity and somewhat sweet style of Champagne with a richer body and texture. Adds about 10–20 sugar calories per glass.
Demi-Sec
Sweet (32–50 g/L sugar). A noticeably sweet style of Champagne that is perfect alongside desserts or cheeses and nuts. Adds 20–30 sugar calories per serving.
Doux
Sweet (50+ g/L sugar). A dessert-style of Champagne that is now relatively rare to find. Very sweet fruit flavors and pairs nicely with creamy desserts (without chocolate). Adds over 30 sugar calories per 5 oz glass.

Style

Standard, Blanc de Blancs, Blanc de Noirs, Rosé

Illustrations of bottles of Champagne Rosé, Blanc de Noirs, Blanc de Blancs by Wine Folly
There are 3 grapes used to make Champagne (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier) and how these grapes are used (or not used) determines the resulting style. If Champagne doesn’t have a style listed, you can assume that the producer made it in the standard style, which is a blend of all three grapes in a blanc (white) style.

Blanc de Blancs

(AKA white of whites) This is a blanc style Champagne made with 100% white grapes. In Champagne, this means it will be 100% Chardonnay. There are, of course, a few rare exceptions to this rule with a few very rare grapes (in the same region) including Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, and Arbane, but for the most part, Blanc de Blancs is 100% Chardonnay. Blanc de Blancs typically have more lemon and apple-like fruit flavors.

Blanc de Noirs

(white of blacks) This is a blanc style Champagne made with 100% black grapes. In Champagne, this means some combination of just Pinot Noir and/or Pinot Meunier. Blanc de Noirs typically have more strawberry and white raspberry flavors.

Rosé

The pink style is made usually by blending blanc Champagne with a teensy bit of red Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier wine. The red wine made for Champagne is very different than the Pinot Noir you might think of. Its purpose is to provide pure fruit flavors such as strawberry and raspberry in the taste, along with little to no tannin and very high acidity. It doesn’t take a lot red wine to make rosé, in fact, several producers use 10% or less Pinot Noir for their rosé Champagne.


Aging

Vintage vs Non-Vintage Champagne

Vintage vs Non-Vintage Champagne by Wine Folly
One of the least talked about and most important factors that plays into the taste of Champagne is how long it’s aged. Aging Champagne on “tirage” (as they call it) gives it more bready, toasty, and nutty aromas – highlights of great Champagne. The best producers with the nuttiest wines are known to age their wines on “tirage” for as long as 5–7 years before release. Even though tirage time is usually not listed, the vintage style will give you a clue.

Non-Vintage
Aged for a minimum of 15 months. Non-vintage (NV) Champagne exists so that producers can make a consistent house style each year (regardless of the quality of that year’s harvest). So, if you buy an NV Champagne, you can expect it to be a fruitier and less yeasty style of Champagne.
Vintage
Aged for a minimum of 36 months. On special years when the harvest is good, producers will create a special single-vintage intended to age for a longer period, and that will usually develop into a creamy and yeasty style of Champagne.

Regional Classification

Premier Cru, Grand Cru, Autre Cru

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Another feature on many bottles of Champagne is the commune name signifying where the grapes were grown. There are hundreds of communes, but only 42 have Premier Cru vineyards and just 17 have Grand Cru vineyards and are labeled as such. These classifications mean the vineyards have demonstrated their ability to produce exceptional wine grapes that make high-quality Champagnes. Of course, many experts believe that there are several “autre” crus (other crus) which are equally worthy, but if you have a wine with one of these classifications listed, it’s going to be a pretty good bet.


Producer Classification

Récoltant Manipulant (RM), Négociant Manipulant (NM), etc.

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If you’re one to support independent producers, there’s a useful notation on a Champagne label. Champagne classifies its producers and there are essentially 3 types of producers in Champagne: Maisons (big guys), Cooperatives (medium guys) and Vignerons (little guys).

Maisons are the big Champagne houses (Moët, Veuve Clicquot, Perrier, Bollinger, etc.) and they source their grapes from all over Champagne. Here are the label terms often associated with Maisons and other large producers:

  • NM “Négociant Manipulant” A producer who buys all or some of his grapes from other growers. Anything less than 94% estate fruit must be labeled NM. Maison Champagne is labeled with this producer class, but it’s not entirely uncommon to see grower Champagne under this classification as well.
  • MA “Marque d’Acheteur” aka ‘Buyer’s Own Brand’ A large retail or restaurant that buys a finished wine and sells it under their own private label. If you’ve ever seen a supermarket have their own brand or a fashion brand, this is probably MA.
  • ND “Négociant Distributeur” A buyer who labels and distributes Champagne that they neither grew nor produced.

Cooperatives are in specific villages in Champagne and make a cuvée with multiple growers in the same region (Nicolas Feuillatte, etc.).

  • CM “Coopérative Manipulant” A grower’s co-op that pools resources and produces wine under a single brand.

Vignerons are grower-producers, or a single family/person who grows his own grapes in a specific place and makes his own wine.

  • RM “Récoltant Manipulant” A grower-producer who uses a minimum of 95% estate fruit. This is classically considered the Champagne grower-producer type, although, it’s possible for a Maison to use this classification on a sub-label or brand.
  • SR “Société de Récoltants” A union of growers who shares resources and collectively markets their own brands.
  • RC “Récoltant Coopérateur” A grower-producer who has their own Champagne brand made at a co-op facility.

Regional Terroir

Montagne de Reims, Côte des Blancs, Côte des Bar, etc.

Wine Map of Champagne France by Wine Folly

The last and most in-depth discussion pertaining to choosing Champagne relates to where the grapes were grown. There are 5 main growing regions of Champagne and each is known for some distinct qualities. Of course, there are many exceptions to these rules, but for the most part, you’ll find Champagnes from the various regions to follow these traits.

Montagne de Reims

A hill south of Reims with many sloping vineyards that face south or southeast that allow wine grapes to achieve optimal ripeness. The focus here is on Pinot Noir which leads to a more full-bodied style of Champagne with bigger, richer flavors. The area contains 10 of the 17 Grand Cru vineyards including Ambonnay, Bouzy, Verzy, Verzenay, and Mailly-Champagne. For example, the prestigious Champagne brand, Krug, uses grapes from the Montagne de Reims.

Vallée de la Marne

The valley along the Marne river has many slopes planted with vineyards. There is just one Grand Cru vineyard here, Aÿ, which is located right outside of the city called Épernay. The focus in Vallée de la Marne is on the Pinot Meunier grape, which has an easier time ripening here (because it can be cooler) and produces a rich style of Champagne with more smoky and mushroomy flavors.

Côte des Blancs

This is a slope that faces east and collects the sun. Côte des Blancs is primarily planted with Chardonnay and contains the remaining 6 Grand Cru vineyard areas of Champagne. This is Blanc des Blancs country, producing some of the finest single-varietal Champagne wines on the market.

Côte de Sézanne

South of the Côte des Blancs is another slope which has many vineyards on it, with a similar dominance in Chardonnay. Despite the potential to this region, you’ll mostly find these wines blended into larger Maisons.

Côte des Bar

This region is far from the rest of the Champagne on the border between Champagne and Burgundy. This area is mostly planted with Pinot Noir and produces a richer style of Champagne, similar to that of Montagne de Reims. However, because the area is a relative newcomer in making Champagne, it doesn’t have a single Grand Cru or Premier Cru vineyard to demarcate its quality. Côte des Bar is a great place to look for exceptional value.


Last Word: Nothing To Lose

If you are a fan of sparkling wine, Champagne is the benchmark of quality and well worth a taste. Regardless of what you buy, just remember this: worst case scenario is you hate it and turn it into a delicious mimosa. We won’t tell anyone. Promise.

The Ever-green Cork

A cork oak tree is harvested or stripped for the first time when it is twenty five years old, and thereafter once every nine years. It’s sold for many different uses from floor tiles to fishing floats, but the greatest revenue comes from the billions of stoppers we use each year to close our wine and champagne bottles. it’s because of the high value of cork bark that this ancient landscape, with its rural culture and its wildlife, have been protected until today.

Cork’s structural composition is remarkable. A 1 inch cube contains roughly 200 million fourteen-sided cells filled with air. cork is four times lighter than water, yet highly elastic, capable of snapping back to its original shape after withstanding 14,000 pounds of pressure per cubic inch. Cork is impervious to air, almost impermeable by water, difficult to burn, resistant to temperature changes and vibration, does not rot, and has the ability to mild itself to the contour of the container it is put into, such as the neck of a wine bottle.

What an extraordinary tree! Cork oaks are the only trees in the world from which you could strip an entire piece of bark like this without killing it. Every tree this size yields sufficient bark to produce 4,000 corks, and this harvest provides employment for at least 60,000 Portuguese workers.

the stripping itself is gruelling work. Using special wedge-shape axes, workers peel 4-foot planks from the bark during the intense summer heat when the tree’s sap is circulating, making it possible to pry off the bark. Once the bark is stripped off, it is left outdoors to season and dry for up to a year.

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What Your Favorite Wine Says About You

Find out what your favorite wine says about your personality. Although, to be fair, as long as you’re drinking wine, there is already something very correct about you.
If you love Malbec…
ou have a box full of adult toys and you like to dip your pizza crust in ranch. Who wouldn’t want a wine that tastes like chocolate cake?

If you love Pinot Grigio…
You got into P. Grigio because it is the lowest calorie sugar-free drink that looks classy. Now you’re kinda stuck with it.

If you love Cabernet Sauvignon…
You like music with real instruments played by real musicians. You live by the motto: “No pain, no gain.” No one would dare use the word ‘subtle’ to describe your personality. Cabernet Sauvignon seems fitting.

If you love Sauvignon Blanc…
You heard that smart is the new sexy. This is great news because you’ve been a sweater-wearing smarty ever since you were eight. You like Sauvignon Blanc because it’s made in New Zealand and the Loire Valley of France; two places where sweaters are popular.

If you love Pinot Noir…
You’re the person who loves the idea of the beach but hates sand in between your toes. Pinot Noir is the ideal wine because it’s not too fruity, not too herbaceous, not too tannic and not too bold. Your go-to color to wear is gray. You have a silver car.

If you love Rosé…
You’ve figured out the socially acceptable way to day-drink.

If you love buttery Chardonnay…
You are aware that other people hate buttery Chardonnay but that won’t stop you from loving it. Chardonnay is like the adult version of pralines and cream. You still have a box of stuffed animals from when you were a kid.

If you love something French…
You studied philosophy and know the proper way to pronounce “Anaïs Nin.” French wine may be rustic and hard-to-drink, but nothing truly profound is ever easy to swallow.

If you love Italian wine…
You’re a family guy/gal but you’re also a bit sadomasochistic. Arguing and bitter vegetables turn you on. Well hello there, radicchio.

Yes, and here i would like to tell you my secret: Pinot Noir is my choice.
How about yours?

What is Tannin in wine?

Tannin, which belongs to a class of compounds called phenols and comes, from the skins and seeds, is among the most intellectually intriguing components in wine—especially red wine. Depending on the amount and nature of tannm and how it is balanced (or not) by those other constituents, it can add to a wine’s greatness or augment its inferiority.
A friend of mine who is a wine professional once described tannin with the following parable: A woman who loves tea makes herself a cup. Just as she finishes pouring the boiling water over the tea bag, the telephone rings. It’s her best friend who tearfully announces she’s going to get a divorce. The woman consoles her friend for half an hour. When she goes back for her tea—which she is now craving—she finds she has left the tea bag (the last in the house) in the cup.
The bitterly astrmgent flavor of the tea brewed too long comes from taimin, found in the leaves. Tainin in tea is related to tannin in wine. If you can imagine the harshness of that cup of tea, you can imagine the harshness tannin can potentially (but not necessarily) bring to wine.
The question is: What can the woman do to make her cup of tea taste better? Adding more hot water will simply produce diluted bitterness. Adding sugar will disguise the bitterness momentarily, but then the harshness will kick back in with a vengeance after the sweet Havor disappears. Adding lemon will make the tea thoroughly intolerable, since acidity and bitterness reinforce each other. The only substance that could improve the teas flavor is milk. Milk’s fat and protein can effectively camouflage the bitterness and make the tea taste softer.
In wine drinking the same idea has been applied for centuries. Why, in all those nostalgic European travel posters, does the villager cradling a jug of wine hold a chunk of cheese in the other hand? Because after hundreds of years of unconscious trial and error, Europeans came to understand that cheese somehow made wine, especially cheap red wine, taste better. Like milk in strongly tannic tea, cheese tempers the harshness of the tannin in the wine. (There’s an entertaining tip here. As clever caterers have always known, no one will notice the shortcomings of an inexpensive wine as long as enough cheese is served alongside.)

Are Wine Tannins Good or Bad?
Tannins + Health = Good There is actually a study on the effects of wine and tea tannin and oxidation in the body. In the tests, wine tannin resists oxidation whereas tea tannin did not. In other words, it may be super good for you. You can read the synopsis here.
What About Migraines? The jury is still out on the connection between tannin and migraines. In order to remove tannins from your diet you’ll need to stop consuming chocolate, nuts, apple juice, tea, pomegranate and, of course, wine.
Age-worthy Wines Tannin is a key component in what makes a wine age worthy. Check out this article on the 4 traits of wines that age well.

Understanding how Burgundy works

Burgundy is often thought of as one of the world’s most difficult wine regions to understand, but burgundy is by no means incomprehensible. Here are six key points essential to understanding Burgundy:

1. White Burgundy is virtually synonymous with chardonnay;

2. Of Burgundy’s five major subregions, the most important and renowned is the Cote d’Or.

3. You Probably think of a vineyard as that piece of land owned by a single vintner. The opposite holds true in Burgundy.

4. Since vineyards in Burgundy are defined by their terrors, not necessarily by who owns them, ownership itself takes on a different spin.

5. Now you can begin to see why the conventional tidy image of a wine estate surrounded by vineyards isn’t really applicable to Burgundy. Instead, most growers own many small parcels of many different vineyards in many different villages.

6. Until the 1980s most of the commerce in Burgundian wine was controlled by powerful brokers known as negociants. The negociants rose to power after the French Revolution, when fragmented ownership of small parcels of land inBurgundy made it economically and physically difficult for small growers to bottle, market, and sell their own wines.

 

Smelling the Cork

You order wine in a restaurant and the waiter puts the cork down beside you. you are supposed to:
1. Smell it?
2. Feel it?
3. Glance at it, then ignore it?
The answer is number 3. The practice of placing the cork on the table dates from the eighteenth century when wineries began branding corks to prevent unscrupulous restauranteurs from filling an empty bottle of Chateau Expensive with inferior wine, recording it, then reselling it as Chateau Expensive.
In honest restaurants, the cork was placed on the table so the diner could see that the name on it matched that on the label, a guarantee that the wine had not been tampered with.
Admittedly, feeling the cork tells you if the wine was stored on its side and that can be a clue to its soundness. But a moist cork is no guarantee that the wine is in good conditions; Similarly, a dry cork does not necessarily portend a wine gone awry.

The Little Guys

So accustomed are we to hearing about and buying Champagnes from the well-known and well-established houses (Veuve Cliquot, Tattinger, Moet & Chandon, and so on), that it’s easy to miss the fact that scores of delicious Champagnes are made by small growers.

These growers, often family firms, make what might be called artisanal Champagnes fro the grapes they grow. As a result, a small grower’s Champagne is usually besed on a very uch smaller number of base wines that are blended together before the wine undergoes the second, bubble-inducing fermentation.

Fewer wines in the blend mean that a small grower has less flexibility in creating the flavour of its Champagne; rather its Champagne will necessarily reflect the terror where the grapes were grown. In the past, many small growers sold their Champagnes exclusively in France, but a number are now being exported (albeit in small amounts) and they are fascinating to taste. Among the producers to look for: Rene Geoffroy, Jean Milan, and Pierre Peters.

 

Amarone: Say Cheese!

Despite the rather common assumption that all red wines taste good with cheese, many cheeses can make red wines taste flat and hollow. A wine that truly stands up to even dramatic cheeses is amarone. At 15 to 16 percent alcohol and with a Portlike body and deep bitter chocolate, mocha, dried fig, and earthy flavours, amarone is a powerhouse. The italian wine expert Victor Hazan (husband of famed cookbook author Marcella Hazan) suggests that amarone is the perfect wine to drink with a roast, being careful to save that last glasses to sip during the finale:: a plate of walnuts and bite-size chunks of Parmigiano-Reggiano.

What makes a great wine great?

Great wine is about nuance, surprise, subtley, expression, qualities that keep you coming back for another taste. Rejecting a wine because it is not big enough is like rejecting a book because it is not long enough, or a piece of music because it is not loud enough.

There are five elements to determine a great wine:

Varietal character

Balance of components

Complexity

Sense of place

Emotional response

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