two fine italian wines for the month of february 2009

Wine for february – Under $25

Valle Reale, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo “Vigne Nuove” 2007 (about $12)

So you need to start paring back on wine expenses, especially your everyday, all-purpose table wine you say? Something a little less expensive than the $15 to $25 bottle of Chianti that you have been buying by the case as your everyday, go-to wine might be in order during these times of diminished expectations. But, you add, less expensive doesn’t mean cheap – you still want wines of some substance and character – you just want to pay less for them.

Montepulciano d’Abruzzo wines may be the answer. These are dry, red wines from the Abruzzo region, which lies due east of Rome on Italy’s Adriatic coast and that has historically been one of Italy’s poorest regions. Montepulciano in this case is a wine varietal which grows easily and well in Abruzzo’s harsh hills and mountains abutting the Adriatic coast. It produces ready to drink, juicy and lively red wines bursting with fruit and that carry relatively modest price tags that won’t make you wince at checkout. Many are priced in the $8 to $15 a bottle price range and give you tremendous value for the dollar. They’re inexpensive and reliable wines that generally don’t disappoint.

That’s not to say that all Montepulciano d’Abruzzo wines are inexpensive. Some Montepulciano d’Abruzzo wines from fastidious, artisanal producers at estates like Emidio Pepe, Valentini and Masciarelli, to name a few, have much loftier price tags, in some cases north of $100 a bottle. These are well-structured, complex, long-lived wines that are oftentimes difficult to find in the U.S. and that require considerable aging before they are ready to drink.

But even at the lower price end, I have never had a bad Montepulciano d’Abruzzo wine. Some, obviously, have been better than others but Montepulciano d’Abruzzo wines seldom disappoint and generally represent great values at all price points.

The Valle Reale winery is one of the rising stars in the Abruzzo wine world. Owned by the Pizzolo family, the winery produces three Montepulciano wines in addition to a Trebbiano and a few other wines. The top of the line is the estate’s “San Calisto”, a 100 percent Montepulciano d’Abruzzo wine that is a frequent recipient of Gambero Rosso’s Tre Bicchieri (“Three Glasses”) award. Next is the estate’s “Valle Reale”, a rich 100% Montepulciano d’Abruzzo wine made from the estate’s oldest vineyards and which spends at least a year in French barriques and a year in bottle before release. This wine normally retails in the $18 to $22 price range and is also a tremendous value within that price range.

The “Vigne Nuove” (which means “first vines”) is the estate’s entry-level Montepulciano Valle Reale, Montepulciano d'Abruzzo "Vigne Nuove" 2007d’Abruzzo wine. The grapes come from Valle Reale’s youngest vineyards planted near the town of Popoli. It also is 100 percent Montepulciano d’Abruzzo but is fermented in stainless steel tanks and never sees wood. After aging for a few months in stainless steel it spends a few additional months in bottle before being released for sale.

The Vigne Nuove is a real winner. It is bright garnet in color with expansive aromas of bright red cherry and raspberry fruit. Since it is unoaked, it is full of fruit and medium-bodied with good texture and a long, satisfying finish. It is generous and ready to drink now but it also has enough tannic structure that it will hold up very well over the next several years.

It is a versatile wine that will pair well with pork dishes and hearty, traditional Italian fare especially any dish with tomato sauce.

Where can I buy this wine? Widely available in the Washington D.C. area including stores such as The Wine Specialist, Calvert Woodley and Schneiders of Capitol Hill.

Wine for February – $25 and over

Prunotto, Monferrato Rosso “Mompertone” 2005 (about $26)

The Prunotto estate, which dates to the years following World War II, was purchased by the Antinori Group from the then-current owners, the Colla Brothers in 1989. With its considerable financial resources the Antinori Group was able to substantially expand the estate’s resources through some very attractive vineyard acquisitions such as the Bussia vineyard in Monforte d’Alba, one of the best known of the Barolo crus, and the Bric Turot vineyard in Barbaresco.

Prunotto has subsequently produced some award-winning Barolo and Barbaresco wines in addition to some exceptionally well-made Barbera and Dolcetto wines. With the first vintage of Mompertone (mom per toe’ nae) Monferrato Rosso bottled in 2003, the Mompertone is a relatively new effort for the estate.

The grapes are harvested from the Mompertone vineyard in Calliano which is Prunotto, Monferrato Rosso DOC "Mompertone" 2005approximately nine miles north of the town of Asti in the Monferrato district in the southeastern part of the Piedmont region. The Monferrato is largely off most tourists’ radar screens but it is very scenic, replete with unpretentious small towns lying on top of gently rolling hills that are surrounded by vineyards.

The Mompertone wine carries the Monferrato Rosso DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) designation. It is a relatively flexible designation that grants producers considerable discretion in what locally-grown grapes can be used in producing the wines.

The Prunotto Mompertone is a blend of 60 percent Barbera and 40 percent Syrah, an unusual blend even by Monferrato Rosso’s flexible standards. After harvest in late September, the Barbera and Syrah grapes are fermented separately for about 10 days. After fermentation, the wines are blended together and 60 percent of the wine is aged in wood casks and the remaining 40 percent in old barriques for about 10 months after which the wines are then recombined. The wine then spends about 6 months in bottle before being released for distribution.

The Mompertone has an intense ruby red color and fairly pronounced plum and other dark fruit aromas interspersed with sweet kitchen spice notes. It is medium-bodied with plump fruit flavors and good mouth feel, pleasant acidity and soft, well-integrated tannins. The Syrah contributes rich fruit flavors while the Barbera adds structure, complexity and acidity. The ’05 Mompertone is ready to drink now but will also age well for another 5 years. It pairs well with most pasta and rice dishes but also goes well with special dishes like sausage with lentils, eggplant lasagna and risotto with mushrooms.

Where can I buy this wine?   Available at Calvert Woodley but otherwise hard to find locally.

Note – prices indicated are averages for the Washington DC metro area and will vary from store to store. While in stock at time of writing, stores may sell out of the selections so availability is not guaranteed. Call to check on price and availability before making the trip.

©Richard Marcis
February 12, 2009




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