A chance to explore the “other half” of my favorite wine double-entendre? Sign me up!
What the heck am I talking about? I’m just talkin’ ‘bout Montepulciano…
Jennifer at Colangelo offered me the opportunity to wrap my taste buds around a bottle of Avignonesi 2011 Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. I didn’t hesitate. Many bottles labeled “Montepulciano” get consumed around Vine HQ. It’s one of our favorite basic table wines. But that has little to do with the aforementioned selection from Avignonesi.
Montepulciano is one of those wines that gets tied up in the European naming conventions and can be somewhat confusing. To avoid getting addled – and to avoid ending up with a wine that isn’t what you intended, you need to distinguish between the Montepulciano grape and the Montepulciano region.
The Montepulciano grape is largely cultivated in the province of Abruzzi. Abruzzi is on the east coast of Italy -- across the country from Tuscany, which is where you’ll find the Montepulciano region. Wines from Abruzzi are usually made from at least 85% of the Montepulciano varietal and are aged for a minimum of five months. Predictably, these wines are labeled "Montepulciano d'Abruzzo" ("The Montepulciano of Abruzzi"). These wines tend to be relatively inexpensive. I’ve seen bottles of Montepulciano for as little as $5 in my local stores. They’re straightforward, uncomplicated table wines.
The Montepulciano region is just to the northwest of Chianti in Tuscany. Most wines made in the Montepulciano, just like those made in Chianti, are blends made from around 70% Sangiovese. The best wines from the Montepulciano region are designated "Vino Nobile di Montepulciano” (“The Noble Wine of Montepulciano”). They are aged for a minimum of 24 months, 18 of which must be spent in oak, before being released. Like most Sangiovese-based wine, Vino Nobile de Montepulciano is high in acidity, which allows it to go well alongside meats and big sauces. They’re known for having much more aging potential than many Tuscan wines. They’re also more expensive – you won’t run into many of these for less than $25, so they fall into the “nice dinner” wines category for me.
The Avignonesi is, itself, somewhat unusual for Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. Going against tradition, the winemaker, Virginie Saverys, made her wine out of 100% Sangiovese rather than doing a blend. Few other wines in Tuscany are single varietal – the best known of which is Brunello di Montalcino.
The aforementioned nice dinner was my intended use for the Avignonesi. I prepared chicken thighs braised in an herbed porcini mushroom and tomato sauce, served with a side of gnocchi. Before I plated it up, we tried the wine on its own. I was pleasantly surprised. I don’t generally prefer Italian wine on its own. Something about the minerality just makes my palate crave it with food. This wine, however, had no issues with flying solo.
I found some strong and lush cherry and dark fruit flavors riding alongside some tannins that gave the flavor some great depth. I don’t run into many wines with that level of fruit intensity that don’t taste “thick.” The mouthfeel was ample, but not too full. Lovely aromas, and a silky, smoky lasting finish. It’s just a pretty wine.
It shined with the meal, as well. There was enough acidity to cut through what evolved into a very rich sauce, but enough strength of flavor not to be overwhelmed. I couldn’t have imagined a much better pairing than this one became. We sat out on the patio on a perfect temperature of a Sunday evening, laughing, eating slowly, and going through the bottle over the course of…well, I don’t know how long. When a wine lends itself to losing one’s sense of time, I have to recommend it.
If you’re into Brunello di Montalcino, you should check out the Avignonesi. I think you’ll find it compares favorably. Since, generally, you can’t find Brunello for less than $50 a pop, and the Avignonesi clocks in at around $30, I think you’ll be pleased.