Sometimes Italy’s flashy Barolos, Super Tuscans, and Brunellos can detract from enjoying the affordable and everyday wines made from unique grapes like Montepulicano and Primitivo, which were once very popular and familiar. Other times, a spot of fear of the unfamiliar leaves delightful indigenous varieties like Pecorino and Aglianico terribly neglected and orphaned on the shelf. We all need a little reminder sometimes about the wonderful daily sippers, and some encouragement to brave the unfamiliar, to taste the familiar joys of good wine.
Let’s take this month to revisit old friends from the past: Montepulciano and Primitivo. These wines are always approachable in style and comfortably familiar. For those of you who prefer to go back to future, we can explore new grapes — Aglianico (red wine) and Pecorino (white wine).
is a deeply colored and thick-skinned grape. It’s grown throughout Italy, but concentrated in Central (Abruzzo and Marche) and Southern (Puglia and Molise) part of the country.
What makes this grape the second most planted and immensely popular are its characteristically low tannins, low to medium acidity, and lots of ripe black fruits. But there’s a caveat: when grown with care, Montepulciano can exhibit supple tannins, black fruit, spice, and an overall boldness in taste and body.
The most informed path is to try the everyday La Fiera Montepulciano d’Alba, and the quality and small production focus of Contesa Montepulciano d’Abruzzo.
is a black skinned grape and is known primarily as the grape currency exchange for Zinfandel. Despite what has been published, it’s still inconclusive whether they are the same grape or not — but it’s certain that they’re very similar. The grape is concentrated in Puglia, which is the boot of southern Italy.
As a daily wine, it has medium-plus body and, interestingly enough, can show some red and black fruits. When searching out bottles produced seriously in Puglia, two regions immediately emerge: Salentino and Manduria. They tend to produce either fuller bodied wines with structure and nuance, or lighter bodied wines that showcases red fruit, peppery edge, and sweet spice.
I’d suggest comparing La Fiera Primitivo, Masseria Li Veli Primitivo Orion (Salentino), and Botromagno Primitivo Murgia (Manduria). They do a great job exhibiting how regions and approaches can completely alter a grape’s identity.
is a grape that often gets neglected because it’s overshadowed by more friendly grapes like Montepulciano, more famous grapes like Nebbiolo, or more popular grapes like Sangiovese. It’s another dark, thick skinned grape, but unlike Primitivo and Montepulciano, it’s also intensely tannic.
The grape is grown primarily in Basilicata and Campania, in southernmost part of Italy. Both regions feature subregions that make famous and highly sought-out Aglianicos for their complexity and age defying quality.
Terredora Dipaolo Aglianico is a wonderful producer for those afraid of the tannic bite, but if you’re looking for a serious producer who also deftly softens the tannins, try Cantina del Notaio L’Atto Aglianico.
is light-red skinned grape made into white wine. Typically, crisp, unoaked, non-buttery Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc drinkers really enjoy this white wine. It’s medium-bodied and low-alcohol, with flavors of lemon citrus, mineral, and floral/herbal notes. It features a clean, bright finish.
Like the Montepulciano, it is grown primarily in Abruzzo and Marche. Next time you find yourself itching for a new white with your flaky fish, seafood, or greens, snag a bottle of Contesa Pecorino d’Abruzzo.
You’ll be greatly rewarded!