To celebrate the launch of our newest Classic Series wine, Lot 188 Montepulciano d' Abruzzo, sommelier, author, and educator Hillary Zio has joined us again for her guest series dedicated to discovering the classics. Hillary shared a bit about the incredible Abruzzo region, along with another great Italian wine region, Chianti. Read on and follow along with Hillary on Instagram @HillaryZio.
When imagining Italy’s many celebrated wines, Tuscany is likely one of the first regions that comes to any wine enthusiast’s mind. Abruzzo, however, is still a bit untapped to most consumers, and relatively undiscovered as a region for high-quality wine. When comparing the famed red wines of both regions, we find similarities in terms of quality, but the variances in style are quite astounding.
Tuscany is known as the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance, with a history of wine production that dates back to the 7th century BC. Upon visiting this region, it was the plethora of vineyards, seemingly everywhere, that was most overwhelming to me. Considering the amount of wine produced throughout the rolling hills and breathtaking views, one can only wonder what makes it so well-suited for grape vines, and in particular, Sangiovese. The Sangiovese grape can handle hot summers with very little rain. It also flourishes in the galestro, a clay-like, easily breakable soil found in the region of Chianti.
Wine lovers may know of Chianti as not only the central Tuscan region, but the consistent style of wine after which it is named. But Chianti was not always dependable in terms of quality. In fact, it wasn’t until the 1990s that many wine drinkers really trusted the wine coming out of this region. Chianti has come a long way from the bulk wine or straw basket image that used to come to mind. Those notions changed greatly as several of the region’s producers began focusing on quality over quantity. Today, Chianti is a reliable region for wine and for understanding Sangiovese from Tuscany. Sangiovese must make up 80% of a Chianti wine by law. In addition to the quality movement, recent laws have also required that Chianti Classico must be aged in oak for at least seven months, and two years for Riserva.
Chianti wine is often referred to as the perfect pizza pairing, with flavors of tomatoes, sour cherries, and dried herbs. It is stylistically earth-driven and rustic, with medium to full tannins. The 90+ Cellars 2016 Chianti Riserva is extremely aromatic, with notes of black cherries, sun dried tomatoes, oregano, leather, and a hint of cocoa, in great part due to the two years of oak aging before bottling.
While lesser-known, another Italian region producing noteworthy and reliable red wines is Abruzzo. This Central region is fascinatingly known for wildlife parks and reserves, along with forests that you would be hard-pressed to find anywhere else in Italy. The less inhibited region surprisingly produces twice as much wine as Tuscany, with Montepulciano being the king red grape and white grape Trebbiano, the queen. Montepulciano is the most planted grape in Abruzzo, named after a town in Southern Tuscany. The grape is hardly planted in or near the town in which it was named, however. Historically, it performs best in Abruzzo.
The Montepulciano grape is often described as earth and herb driven, with less red fruit than Sangiovese, and more pronounced tannin. The 90+ Cellars 2019 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is full of stone and slate minerality. I also found notes of just-ripe blackberries, fresh parsley, and clove on the palate, followed by distinct and grippy tannins.
Chianti and Montepulciano d’Abruzzo are both inimitable, fine wines, but the flavor profiles are quite different. With entirely unique soil types and micro-climates, you can expect more fruit and floral aromas in a Chianti, while Montepulciano showcases a mineral and herbaceous quality. They are fairly similar in terms of body and tannin, however, so they can often pair with similar dishes successfully. For a perfect food pairing though, I’d look to Chianti for complimenting tomato sauces in pasta and pizzas. The robust and tobacco-like aromas of Montepulciano often call for richer and more savory foods. Roast pork, beef brisket, and shepherd’s pie all pair phenomenally with Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. Either way, you can’t go wrong with these Italian beauties, especially as we enter the cozy fall and winter months.Find the full range of 90+ Cellars Classic Series wines here.