Montepulciano Rising

Was Montepulciano d'Abbruzzo always this good?

Back in the 90's, MdA could be had by the magnum on the bottom shelf at grocery stores for $6 apiece. In the ensuing decades, winemaking has gotten better, supply chains have become more plentiful with choices, and my affordability ceiling has risen (modestly.)

Since then, Monetpulcianos in the $10-15 range have provided plenty of drinking enjoyment, especially when summertime grilling wants an Italian companion. Though the entry level wines from this Abruzzese producer can be widely-found, the upper tier lineups aren't incremental, they're generational. This round of samples offers a surprising and illuminating perspective on what's possible when unrelenting focus on quality is applied to what has largely been a utilitarian grape variety. 

Back in the 1980's, Gianni Masciarelli believed in Abruzzo's potential, so he invested heavily, making an impact on quality by reducing yields, pursuing sustainable and organic farming, and fueling innovation. Today, his wife, Marina and daughter, Miriam, are at the helm keeping Gianni's legacy alive and kicking.

Individual reviews follow, but suffice it to say that these wines are worthy of your time to find (and money to acquire.) The following are in order of light to heavy:

2022 Villa Gemma Bianco Colline Teatine IGT $24
Linear and focused, with defined outlines and brilliant clarity on the palate. The fruit comes into the picture long after the precise minerality has a chance to unwind. The dry aftertaste echoes equal parts sun-kissed fruit and wet riverbed. Nerdy. Vibrant. Delicious. This might be the little sister to the Marina Cvetic Trebbiano bottling, but lacks little, if anything, compared to its more expensive sibling. 

2020 Marina Cvetic Trebbiano d’Abruzzo DOC Riserva $60
The Marina Cvetic trebianno is an extraordinarily complete wine, balancing equally-pronounced precise, floral fruit, complex minerality, and finely-tuned acidity. There's not a drop out of place in this high-end white that has a next-level X factor and will have wine nerds delighting. At $60, it's expensive, but a benchmark for the region. Fantastic.

2022 Villa Gemma Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo DOC Superiore $24
Love at first sight. More translucent red than rose (though classified as the latter,) this serious wine is also a blast to drink. Made from the red Montepulciano grape in a very light style, it delivers (and then some) on bright, sun-baked cherry flavors and brilliant acidity. Clocking in at 14% and hiding it well, this might be the entry-level in the Villa Gemma lineup from Masciarelli, but has managed to more fully capture my attention and heart than the other (very impressive) wines. Stupendo!

2019 Marina Cvetic Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC Riserva $38
Hard to believe this is the "entry level" of the Riserva line. Cashmere sweater cozy, this expansive, full-bodied red is majestic in its finery and detail. If you like them big and chewy, but classically Italian and poised through the brawn, this is a terrific example of how a humble grape can be elevated through attention in the vineyards and a light touch in the cellar. Wow, this is good. A quick search will reveal that you can find it around $25, which would make it a smoking hot value. Either way, it's much deserving of 93 points.

2018 Villa Gemma Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC Riserva $98
Appearance: Black, viscous, inky, mysterious. Nose: Fireworks of multicolored fruit, cellar shavings, and captivation. Palate: Grippy, vigorous, young, rich, languid, fascinating. Texture: Juxtaposing density, dust, and placid lake surface. Summary: Mouth-coating tannins guard the core of this magnificent red. Dimensions unfold like storytelling at a dinner table. Though insanely enjoyable now, many decades of taming relaxation lie ahead for this beast. Extraordinary.