La Valentina, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo (Italy) “Spelt” 2006 (Dalla Terra, $20): It was somewhat startling for me to realize that in almost six years of writing this column, I have never before featured a Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. It was surprising for many reasons: I have always enjoyed the spicy red wines made from the native Montepulciano grape in Italy’s Abruzzo region; a few exciting producers have emerged in recent years; these wines are terrifically food-friendly; and it’s hard to find better value.
Montepulciano d’Abruzzo has long been a mainstay of the Italian wine scene in U.S. restaurants. There was a time when the anonymous by-the-glass red wine in most Italian restaurants was Montepulciano d’Abruzzo -- usually a decent enough, very inexpensive, easy-drinking wine produced by some co-operative and packaged in 1.5 liter bottles. Over the past ten to fifteen years, estate wineries have increased in number, and some seriously good red wines have emerged. Fattoria La Valentina, founded by Sabatino Di Properzio in 1990, is one such winery.
La Valentina produces only wines from native local varieties -- the red Montepulciano grape, the white Trebbiano d’Abruzzo and the white Pecorino. Besides Spelt, the reds include a $14 Montepulciano and a high-end single-vineyard wine named Bellovedere (about $50). Spelt itself comes from a single vineyard named Santa Teresa of Spoltore; the wine carries the name of Spoltore’s major grain crop. (Di Properzio has also partnered with Veneto winemaker Stefano Inama to produce a Montepulciano wine called Binomio from a small vineyard that the two purchased in 1998.)
The Montepulciano grape makes wines that are fairly deep in color, often with rich tannin structure, and aromas/ flavors of smoke, red and black fruits and sometimes an interesting vegetal note. The 2006 Spelt has vibrant aromas and flavors that suggest tart black berries, a tarry earthiness, herbal notes and a gentle vanilla perfume. The wine is totally dry and borders on full-bodied, with an element of firm tannin that, together with the wine’s fairly high acidity, gives definition and character. The texture is beautifully smooth apart from the rear-palate tannin. The fruit flavors have good concentration and exude a refreshing juiciness.
This wine has an appealing fruitiness but it is also complex in flavor, and stylistically it falls into the category of spicy reds rather than simple fruity reds. The basic La Valentina Montepulciano d’Abbruzzo is also a spicy red, a lively wine with very good concentration of fresh red-fruit flavor, especially cranberry. That wine is made without oak, while the Spelt, in contrast, aged 18 months in new and used barriques, which lends a polished character to the wine.
In choosing foods, consider grilled meats, especially sausages, as well as sauces or dishes with smoked ingredients; the wine is also lovely with simple beef or pork dishes and hard cheeses. It is drinking very well now, and will develop nicely, I believe, over 5 years or so, losing its spicy edges with time. This is a terrific value for an individual, artisan wine.