Chili season is here and Italy’s Montepulciano d’Abruzzo makes a fine pairing with any mildly spicy tomato-based chili. One small caveat: Italy’s wines are as delicious as they are confusing and it’s important to note that Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is made from the Montepulciano grape. It should not be confused with Tuscany’s Vin Nobile de Montepulciano, which is produced in an entirely different region and primarily made from Sangiovese. If the name continues to confuse you, think with your wallet instead as Montepulciano is typically far less expensive than Sangiovese. Indeed, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is considered a food-friendly, easy-drinking, superb value—making it an ideal wine for a pot of chili on a January night.
Much of central Italy is planted with Montepulciano, including regions such as: Abruzzi, Latium, Marche, Molise, Umbria and Apulia. To keep things simple (and because they tend to be widely available in the U.S.), I elected to focus only on wines made the Abruzzi region. Nestled in the Abruzzi hills, these vineyards area located on Italy’s eastern edge, bordering the Adriatic. The Montepulciano grape tends to ripen late and produce big juicy berries, which can lend itself to bland, plummy wines. Careful producers who attend to quality produce soft, approachable wines with rustic sensibilities. Although Montepulciano is best consumed young, some can age 4 to 5 years.
For tasting purposes I opened seven wines and tasted each with a pot of three-meat, slightly spicy chili. The good news is that every wine worked with the meal—nothing was an abysmal disconnect. The better news is that several of the wines were terrific pairings. Below you’ll find my list of winners.
- Considered to be the finest growing zone for Montepulciano: Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Colline Teamano DOCG
- Vintage: Don’t fret much over this; the wines from good producers are very consistent year-to-year.
- Aging: Most are meant for immediate enjoyment; some can age 4 -5 years.
- Cerasuolo: the rosé version of Montepulciano.
- Next to Sangiovese, Montepulciano is the second most widely plated red grape in Italy.
2010 Illuminati Riparosso Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Italy, $15. Rich red fruits, soft tannins and some coffee notes, a gentle, fun crowd-pleaser. Also look for the more complex and structured Illuminati Zanna, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Colline Teramane Riserva. ($35).
2010 La Valentina Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, $15. Soft tannins laced with licorice, exotic spices, black cherry and earthy notes.
2009 Valle Reale Vigneto di Popoli Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, $19. Earthy and rich with a dark black cherry nose. One of the best pairings with chili.
2009 Valle Reale San Calisto Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, $40. A bursting, juicy mouthful of tart cherry and blackberry notes complimented by soft tannins. The flagship wine from Valle Reale.