“One of my favorite wines!” My friend Meghan Levins, a local chef, jumped happily into the discussion when I posted a photo of today’s featured wine, a Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, on social media. “Even the cheap stuff is awesome!”
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“Exactly,” I posted back. “I’ve never seen a pricey one.”
“Hahaha! Well, I haven’t either,” she responded, adding a laughing emoji.
It was just another day on social media, but this time there was no fake news in sight: If you enjoy good, acidic, food-friendly red table wines in the rustic Italian style, it’s mighty hard to beat Montepulciano d’Abruzzo for appetizing character for the price.
Montepulciano d’Abruzzo has long been a go-to wine for me when I’m looking for a tasty, affordable Italian red other than Chianti. And sadly, except for the basic wines on the bottom shelf, even Chianti’s prices have been rising out of the everyday-with-dinner neighborhood.
To my taste, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo lands in the same quadrant as Chianti on the flavor and aroma wheel. It’s not made from the same grape, though: Chianti is a blend of primarily Sangiovese with other red grapes; Montepulciano bears the name of its grape. Chianti is grown in Tuscany. Montepulciano grapes are grown along a swath of Italy’s Abruzzo region, which runs eastwardly down from the Apennines to the Adriatic coast, on the other side of Italy’s “boot” from Rome.
Although the grapes are completely different and the terroirs dissimilar, coincidence – and perhaps Italian tastes formed by tradition – yield two wines with somewhat similar character: Crisp and fresh, dry and acidic, redolent of plums and cherries; and they’re both very good with food.
As my conversation with Meghan suggests, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo rarely turns up as a trophy wine, and I don’t have much interest in the handful of exceptions driven by critic points. Montepulciano is not made for cellaring, and it’s not going to smack you in the wallet. Like basic Chianti, it’s made for simple pleasure and everyday enjoyment. In my opinion that is a very good thing.
What’s your pick for best cheap wine? Are you on Team Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, or do you back another favorite? You’re welcome to drop by our WineLovers Discussion Group and tell us about your choice.
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Stock up on handcrafted wines priced as low as $12.99 and save up to $38 in shipping to most states on every case. Plus, save an extra 10% on orders over $199.
Small-batch, artisan Cabernets, Pinot Noirs, Chardonnays, and more are on sale now at The California Wine Club. These award-winning wines come from real, working wineries, and every bottle is backed by their Love It guarantee.
Don’t wait! Wines will sell out quickly. Sale ends September 30, 2021.
About The California Wine Club
There are thousands of small family wineries handcrafting extraordinary wine in quantities too limited to be found in local stores or shops. In 1990 wine club founders Bruce and Pam Boring discovered that these winemaking families were the most passionate in the wine world and that their wines were the hidden gems of wine country! Together Bruce and Pam embarked on a journey to help these artisan wineries introduce their exquisite wines to the world.
Today’s Tasting Report
Bennati 2018 “Castellano” Montepulciano d’Abruzzo ($10.99)
Bennati Castellano Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is a good, food-friendly Italian red, a bit on the rustic side, as is typical of the affordable wines of this region. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Dark reddish-purple in the glass, it offers pleasant dark cherry-berry aromas. Flavors follow the nose with blackberries and tart cherries shaped by pleasant mouth-watering acidity, light tannic astringency that lasts, and a pleasant whiff of red-clay minerality. 12.5% alcohol. U.S. importer: Sunrise Wines, Raleigh, N.C. (Sept. 2, 2021)
FOOD MATCH: Rustic wine for rustic fare: Hearty red meat like beef and lamb and roast pork will serve this pleasant, affordable Italian red well. We enjoyed it with pasta e fagioli, borlotti beans from Rancho Gordo in a rich tomato and onion-based sauce with mini penne.
WHEN TO DRINK: There’s no rush, but like a lot of other modest wines, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo might as well be drunk up upon purchase; there’s no advantage in cellaring it.
When you’re in the mood for a good, cheap Italian red to go with food, you can’t go wrong with Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. This is a good one at a fair price.
FIND THIS WINE ONLINE:
You may have a hard time finding the Castellano label. Importer Emanuele Magnani tells me it was originally designed for sale to a group of restaurants, but now is available in limited quantities in a few states. However, it’s very similar to Bennati’s Ca Brigiano Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, which you’ll find at this Wine-Searcher link.
You can also browse this extensive list of other wines from Casa Vinicola Bennati on Wine-Searcher.com.
Finally, you can follow this Wine-Searcher link to look for scores of other wines of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, virtually all of them affordable and worth it.
Wine Focus: Wine 303 – Zinfandel and its family
Ah, Zinfandel! Wine Focus this month bridges summer and fall with Wine 303 – Zinfandel, the bold red grape that was long declared America’s grape for its strong and early status as an iconic California wine … until wine scientists using DNA research found that its roots reached back to Croatia, where its identical DNA twins Crljenik Kasteljanski and Tribidrag had grown for centuries, maybe as far back as ancient Rome. Southern Italy’s Primitivo is the same grape too, perhaps transported across the Adriatic from the Balkans in ancient times. And Plavac Mali, another Croatian grape thought to be a Zin ancestor, turned out to be a similar cousin. So let’s celebrate Zin and all its family in Wine Focus this month. Bring your Zin, or a Primitivo, or even a Crljenik if you can find it, and let’s talk about Zin! Here’s your link: Wine 303 – Zinfandel and its family
Good wines we’ve tried under $10.99!
Want tips to still more good, inexpensive wines? Here are Wine-Searcher links to vendors and prices for a bunch more wines for $10.99 or less that I’ve told you about in recent years. In some cases the prices may have risen over the $10.99 mark since I reviewed them, but they should still be excellent bargains. Please tell us about your favorites!
- Famille Perrin 2019 “La Vielle Ferme” Rouge ($7.99)
- Querceto 2019 Chianti ($10.99)
- Porto Kopke Fine Ruby and Tawny Port ($9.99/375ml)
- La Fiera 2016 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo ($8.99)
- La Vieille Ferme Vin de France Rosé ($8.99)
- Laroque Cité de Carcassonne Cabernet Franc ($9.99)
- Domaine de Pouy 2016 Côtes de Gascogne ($7.99)
- Alamos Mendoza Malbec ($9.99)
- Caposaldo Chianti ($8.99)
- d’Arenberg McLaren Vale “The Stump Jump” ($9.99)
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