Montepulciano is one of Italy’s most planted grapes, only pipped by sangiovese amongst reds, but its profile is somewhat lowlier. While it can achieve great heights, its reputation is generally built around fruit-forward and relatively softly structured styles. But montepulciano’s resilience to hot growing conditions is seeing it being pegged as a future star in this country.

Also known as

While there are many localised synonyms for montepulciano in Italy, there are none that are likely to appear on a label, and certainly not for an Australian bottling.

What montepulciano tastes like

With lower acidity and softer tannins than many Italian red varieties, montepulciano still has plenty of structure to match the often-full fruited profile. The flavours frequently drift into darker fruits and berries with herbal elements sometimes present – often cool and leafy when coming from cooler sites, while more woodsy herbal notes can appear from warmer ones.

Vineyard & winemaking

Montepulciano is a late-ripening variety, which can become quite leafy and green in cool years. And while it has lower acidity than some other Italian red varieties, its late ripening means that sufficient acid is retained even in warm conditions, making it a strong prospect in Australia’s warmest regions. Montepulciano is best known for fuller red wines, with or without oak ageing, but it also makes one of Italy’s most distinctive traditional rosato styles, Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo, so it is somewhat more versatile than that.

Where is montepulciano grown?

Italy’s second most-planted red variety (fifth overall), montepulciano reaches the greatest heights in the region of Abruzzo on the central east coast. Montepulciano is widely planted in central Italy – though not at all near the Tuscan town of the same name – as well as down south, especially in Puglia. Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is the grape’s most famous DOC, and the region accounts for over half of Italy’s 30,645 hectares. Another quarter is soaked up by Puglia, while La Marche, Molise, Lazio and Campania account for most of the remaining vines. While montepulciano is the lauded red grape of Abruzzo, rarely is it seen in the same hallowed frame as say sangiovese or nebbiolo. Indeed, it is arguably only in the hands of legendary makers Valentini or Ermidio Pepe that montepulciano ever achieves true greatness, with it generally being made into fleshy and affordable offerings. Having said that, increasingly there are more and more serious examples that prosecute the case for the grape being a noble one.

Montepulciano around the world

Although montepulciano is Italy’s second-most planted and distributed red grape, it has not attracted anywhere near the international interest that Italy’s number one red, sangiovese, has. There are small but increasing plantings in California, while New Zealand has a smattering, most famously made by Hans Herzog in Marlborough.

Montepulciano in Australia

With a modest presence in Australia, montepulciano is proving very promising and those plantings are growing, though it is hard to tell exactly by how much. The last survey was conducted in 2015, where there were just 74 hectares, primarily in the arid, irrigation-reliant regions that flank the Murray, but the Barossa, Adelaide Hills and McLaren Vale are also showing particular promise. In 2007, Matt Gant was crowned the inaugural Young Gun of Wine on the back of his First Drop ‘Minchia’ Montepulciano, which utilised relatively mature vines from the Adelaide Hills. Since then, the increase in interest for the grape, and so-called alternative varieties in general, has exploded.

Some of the best Australian montepulciano

Alpha Box & Dice
Bird in Hand
First Drop
Frederick Stevenson
La Prova
Lino Ramble
Mr Riggs
Purple Hands
S.C. Pannell

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