Montepulciano d’Abruzzo: Highly Popular but Little Known

It’s time to dig in. In the Northeast, the cold and dark of winter are arriving, made even chillier by the unrelenting Covid-19 pandemic. The holidays, at least, will be festive in 2020’s own peculiar way.

I don’t know about you, but I am grateful for the new set of ingredients that comes with the colder weather, at least for relieving me of the tedium of my own cooking. I am excited for the possibilities of old favorites that have been on seasonal hiatus during the warmer months.

For me, that means stews, roasts, pots of beans and hearty pasta dishes. I am especially looking forward to preparing a big tray of lasagna, in what has become a New Year’s Eve tradition for my wife and me once we decided that late-night parties were more burden than joy.

Regina Schrambling’s recipe, published almost 20 years ago, has never steered me wrong. It’s time-consuming, however. Plan it for a day when several hours in the kitchen is exactly what you want, preferably with some good music and maybe a glass of wine.

The lasagna goes beautifully with sangiovese wines like Chianti Classico. It’s great with Etna Rossos and good barberas. But this year I’m imagining it with Montepulciano d’Abruzzo.

Montepulciano, the grape, is not to be confused with Montepulciano, the wine region in Tuscany. It is the second most widely planted red grape in Italy after sangiovese, but it is not nearly as well known outside Italy or as highly esteemed.

Partly, this is because Abruzzo and the Adriatic coast of Italy are neither as wealthy nor as widely explored by American tourists as Tuscany. The region does not have a history of craftsmanlike winemaking, though Abruzzo is the home of two of Italy’s most gloriously idiosyncratic producers, Valentini and Emidio Pepe, whose wines are expensive and highly coveted.

But the general level of quality in Abruzzo has risen over the last 20 years, and I have become an avid fan of both its whites and its reds. So over the next month we will explore Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. Here are the three wines I suggest:

Cirelli Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2019 (Zev Rovine Selections/Fruit of the Vine, Long Island City, N.Y.) $18

Tiberio Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2017 (The Sorting Table, Napa, Calif.) $20

De Fermo Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Concrete 2018 (Grand Cru Selections, New York) $24

If you can’t find these same vintages, don’t worry. And if you cannot find these producers, other options include Cantinarte, Marina Cvetic, Cataldi Madonna, Annona, Praesidium, Atilia, De Angelis Corvi and, if you have the money, Valentini and Emidio Pepe.

Beyond lasagna, these wines will go well with pizza, pastas with tomato or meat sauces, braised meats and roast chicken. I’m sure you will find many other dishes beyond this somewhat limited list.

As always with red wines, please serve slightly cool.

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