Tasting Montepulciano

I like to find obscure bottles of wine. Case in point: Rosso Piceno. Piceno comes form Marches, the region just east of Rome. Marches’ wines are not popular in the United State or anywhere else other than that region. Marches is known for its two red wines: Rosso Piceno (60 percent Montepulciano and 40 percent Sangiovese) and Rosso Conero (85 percent Montepulciano and 15 percent Sangiovese). People may know these grapes, but not in this expression.

I opened a 2004 Piceno recently. The nose is amazing–lilacs, leather, burnt cedar and cranberry. Perfect for this time of year. Unfortunately, the palate did not live up to the nose–it fell a bit flat and watery after about five seconds. Picenos are not meant to age very long, and I was curious to see if this 8-year-old would still be thriving. It certainly wasn’t bad, but it was past its prime. To me, if you can keep tasting a wine 45 seconds after you’ve swallowed, and it keeps changing in your mouth, that is a mark of a great wine. Unfortunately, this guy fell flat.

So instead I cracked my Gran Sasso Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. This wine, as the name suggests, is from Abruzzo, just south of Marches. It’s a 2010 and much more fresh than the Piceno, and is 100 percent Montepulciano. Big fruit of plum, black cherry and apple skins up front; the wine is smooth and perfect for Merlot lovers. Hard cheeses like percorino or manchego are excellent pairings. The bottle did, however, lack the funk that the Piceno had (which comes from the blend with Sangiovese). I finished this bottle without a problem, with the taste going about 30 seconds. Not my 45, but pretty close. And at about $12-$13 bottle retail, it’s a good value.

What have we learned? Mostly that Montepulciano is best 3-5 years of age. And it’s my favorite grape to pronounce.

Zachary Mannheimer, dsm’s wine writer, is a restaurant sommelier and the co-owner of Proof restaurant. He also runs a wine course business called Flight School (FlightSchoolWine.com) and serves as the executive director of The Des Moines Social Club (DesMoinesSocialClub.org). He can be reached at zmannheimer@gmail.com.

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