As a good pairing to Francesca’s tempting veal skewers, I suggest going for a full-bodied red wine with defined (but not aggressive) tannins, good acidity and smoothness – I would pick either a Montepulciano d’Abruzzo or a Nero d’Avola (the latter in homage to the Sicilian roots of Francesca’s recipe). Let’s take a closer look to each of them.
Montepulciano is a grape that is indigenous to Central Italy and that is extensively cultivated in several Central Italy regions, such as Abruzzo, Marche, Umbria and Lazio to name a few. The presence of Montepulciano vines in the Abruzzo region has been documented since the XVIII century and nowadays it accounts for almost 50% of the vines that are grown in Abruzzo (Montepulciano is also the fourth most cultivated grape variety in Italy). Due to the ample supply of Montepulciano grapes, the quality levels of the wines that are made out of it unfortunately vary quite significantly (although it must be recognized that, in the last fifteen years or so, there has been a conscious effort on the part of most producers to raise the average quality of the wines made out of Montepulciano grapes), so buyer beware: you have to do your homework first and pick the best producers if you don’t want to be disappointed.
In Abruzzo, the use of Montepulciano grapes is permitted both in the only local DOCG appellation (Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Colline Teramane DOCG, which requires the use of 90% or more Montepulciano grapes, in addition to a maximum of 10% of Sangiovese grapes) and in all of the Abruzzo DOC appellation except only Trebbiano d’Abruzzo DOC which is reserved to white wines mostly made out of Trebbiano d’Abruzzo (also known as Bombino Bianco) grapes. All of the wines which we are about to recommend fall within the Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC appellation, which encompasses an area surrounding the towns of Chieti, L’Aquila, Pescara and Teramo and which requires the use of 85% or more Montepulciano grapes in the winemaking process.
Among the best Montepulciano d’Abruzzo with a solid quality/price ratio are Valle Reale, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC (with aromas of violet, plums, blueberries, blackberries licorice); Masciarelli, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo “S. Martino Rosso Marina Cvetic” DOC (with scents of violet, rose, blackberries, cherries, cocoa, vanilla, pepper, nutmeg); Pietrantonj, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo “Cerano” Riserva DOC (with aromas of cherries, wild berries, vanilla, tobacco, cocoa); Dino Illuminati, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo “Ilico” DOC (with scents of blackberries, cherries, tobacco, leather, licorice, soil, slightly oaky); Torre dei Beati, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo “Cocciapazza” DOC (with aromas of rose, violet, cherries, plums, blueberries, redcurrants, licorice, cocoa): unfortunately, Torre dei Beati does not have a Web site as at November 2012: as usual, should you be interested in reaching out to them, just drop me an email. All of the above wines are varietal, that is made out of 100% Montepulciano grapes.
Nero d’Avola is a black-berried grape variety that is widely grown in Sicily and that, apparently, was first brought there by Greek migrants during the Greek colonization of Southern Italy (so-called “Magna Graecia”) in the VI century BC. This makes Nero d’Avola essentially an indigenous grape variety to the region of Sicily, where it has been cultivated for centuries and where it is also known as “Calabrese” – not because it came from Calabria, but because that name is thought to be a contraction of two words (“Calea” and “Aulisi”) which, in the Sicilian dialect, mean “grape from Avola” (Avola is the name of a Sicilian town).
The use of Nero d’Avola grapes is permitted both in the only DOCG appellation of Sicily (Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG, a blend in which Nero d’Avola can be used between 50 and 70% in combination with Frappato grapes) and in several of the Sicilian DOC appellations, but many among the best products are marketed under the more loosely regulated Sicilia IGT appellation, which affords serious producers more flexibility in experimenting and creating excellent wines out of Nero d’Avola grapes, especially by blending them with international grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Syrah to tame certain aggressive traits that varietal Nero d’Avola wines sometimes exhibit.
These are among the best Nero d’Avola-based wines around for their quality/price ratios: Feudo Maccari, “Saia” Sicilia IGT (100% Nero d’Avola, with scents of violets, herbs, wild cherry, pepper, juniper berries and leather, slightly toasty – a special note of commendation to the owners who invested the energy and the resources to achieve an excellent density of over 5,500 vines/HA); Morgante, “Don Antonio” Sicilia IGT (100% Nero d’Avola, with aromas of potpourri, ripe red fruit, licorice, leather, chocolate and minerals); Cusumano, “Noa'” Sicilia IGT (a blend of 40% Nero d’Avola, 30% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, with complex scents of violets, red fruit, sandalwood, leather, chocolate) or also very good “Sagana” Sicilia IGT (100% Nero d’Avola, with scents of wild cherry, anise, chocolate, leather, tobacco), even in this case, we want to acknowledge a producer who attained a commendable density of 5,000 vines/HA; Planeta, Noto Nero d’Avola “Santa Cecilia” DOC (100% Nero d’Avola, with aromas of wild cherries, plums, blackberries, licorice, cocoa, graphite – once again, kudos to the owners who obtained a very good density of 5,000 vines/HA); Donnafugata, “Tancredi” Sicilia IGT (a blend of Nero d’Avola, Cabernet Sauvignon, Tannat and other grape varieties, with scents of roses, cherries, leather, tobacco, chocolate – a density of 4,500 to 6,000 vines/HA is another very good feature worth pointing out).
Enjoy, and as usual let us know by leaving a comment below if you happened to try out any of the wines mentioned above or should you wish to suggest a different pairing!