There's a town in Tuscany called Montepulciano where they make wine from sangiovese, the same grape that forms the backbone of chianti. Those are labeled Rosso or Vino Nobile d'Montepulciano. Then there is the grape variety, also called Montepulciano. Since it ripens late, the grape needs the warmer climate of southern Italy and is most widely planted in Abruzzo. These wines typically provide good quality at a great price. Here are three top picks:
2008 Capestrano Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, $10.99
This wine opens with heady aromas that are a nice mix of ripe cherry and plum fruit backed by toasty oak, sweet licorice, herb and a pleasant hint of smoke. Juicy blueberry, tart cherry and red currant flavors fill the mouth and are matched by zesty acidity and light tannins on the fresh, fruity finish. A food friendly bargain.
2008 Quattro Mani Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, $9.99
Robust, earthy aromas pour from the glass highlighted by dark berry, dried cherry, rose petal and mushroom. Made in a very approachable, lithe and lively style that's filled with bright cherry fruit flavors, smooth ripe tannins, soft but ample acidity and a nice touch of cinnamon. This wine has a definite crowd-pleasing value.
2003 Vizzarro Barone Cornacchia Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, $32.50
And now for something completely different. This is a seriously intense wine on a different plateau from the other two entries. The aromas are a brooding mix of big berry fruit with layers of cedar, earth, leather and licorice. Elegant and beautifully balanced on the palate, this wine offers seamless berry and plum flavors with dusty tannins and a finish that lingers on and on. It's more expensive, but worth the splurge.