Montepulciano – What’s in a name?

Montepulciano(Molise Rosso DOC)
Grapes on the vine
Grapes on the vine

When promoting wines from a smaller, less-known region, having a popular grape variety can entice people to try a wine they otherwise would not try. Generally, people may not know Wairarapa, but they know Pinot Noir. They may have no idea which country Maipo Valley is in, but they know they like Cabernet Sauvignon.

So, it is with Molise, a small Italian region, where Montepulciano is widely planted and where the wineries have generations of experience working with it. This makes sense, as Molise was until 1963 joined with Abruzzo, another region known for their link Montepulciano.

Molise has the Terrior, it has the experience, and it has a well-known grape variety – all this should give promoting their wines a much-needed boost. Only there is one minor hitch. Nobody knows that Molise makes fantastic wines from a popular grape variety because you won’t find the word Montepulicano anywhere on the label.

The Case of the Missing Montepulciano

To anyone not familiar with the wines of Molise it’s not initially obvious that the regions most planted grape is Montepulciano. Even when the wine contains nothing but 100% Montepulciano the label will still, unhelpfully, only read Molise Rosso DOC. The most generic of labels.

It turns out there is a legal reason for the missing Montepulciano. Having heard the stories of how protective Italy can be with DOCs and PGIs, sometimes even renaming grape varieties, my first thought was that Abruzzo was the culprit. That they had bullied their smaller neighbour into dropping the offending word. It would even make a kind of sense that Abruzzo would not want a region, right on their doorstep, potentially encroaching into the section of the market they are best known for.

It then came as a surprise that Abruzzo wasn’t the culprit; rather it was the Consortium of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, whose actions had lead to Molise being forbidden from labelling their wines with the variety they are made from.

Montepulciano
Montepulciano

Now, some of you may be nodding your heads with a wry smile thinking “Ah, of course, the Tuscans”, while others will be thinking “Who the hell are the Consortium of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano?”

For those that may not be aware, there is a town in Tuscany called Montepulciano. The town and surrounding area are well-known, in the wine world at least, for their Vino Nobile di Montepulciano wines. These wines are usually considered of high quality having their own DOCG. Of course, with a name like that it comes as no surprise that their wines are made primarily from the grape variety…Sangiovese.

The other famous Montepulciano, and arguably the better-known to the average wine buyer, is Montepulciano D’Abruzzo. Unlike the previous example, this use of Montepulciano is a bit easier to get your head around. It refers to DOC wines made in the region of Abruzzo that use at least 85% of the Montepulciano variety. Easy.

Then we have the ‘Molise Rosso DOC’ – this covers wines made in Molise and which contain at least 85% Montepulciano. Much like their northern neighbours in Abruzzo.

So to recap; we have an Italian DOCG (Vino Nobile di Montepulciano) that makes wines primarily from Sangiovese telling another wine region, Molise, that they can’t use Montepulciano on their labels even when the wine is made from that variety, while Molise’s northern neighbour, Abruzzo, can still use the word Montepulciano on their labels.

Something strange is going on here.

Graffiti in Civitacampomarano of Il Molise Non Esiste REsiste
Montepulciano(Molise Rosso DOC)

Where are you from again?

Depending on who you ask you’ll get a different answer for how this mess came about. Unofficially I’ve been told it comes down to money, that Molise either was not seen as important enough or rich enough to get a seat at the table where these things are decided.

However, officially it comes down to a missing preposition of all things. For a short period, between 1998 to 2000 wines from Molise could be labelled ‘Molise Montepulciano DOC’. However, in March of 2000, the Consorzio del Vino Nobile di Montepulciano lodged an appeal asking for the immediate suspension to avoid confusion with their wines. This appeal was eventually accepted forcing Molise to stop using Montepulciano on their labels.

But why Molise and not Abruzzo? Well according to the minutes from Molise’s region council meeting it all comes down to an especially important preposition.

Montepulciano (Molise Rosso DOC)
Ripe Tintilia Grapes at Harvest

Abruzzo’s DOC is Montepucliano d’Abruzzo. Now, to those who don’t know Italian that d’ is critical as it effectively translates the DOC name to “Montepulciano of Abruzzo” – making it clear that this is a Montepulciano from Abruzzo.

Molise’s mistake was to name their DOC “Molise Montepulciano” – this can confuse as it’s just listing two place names, that of the region of Molise and the town of Montepulciano. If they had instead called their DOC “Molise del Montepulciano” all would have been well, apparently.

As a result, we’re left with Molise Rosso. Maybe the most generic name they could have selected. Why not just switch to Molise Del Montepulciano? That question remains outstanding and one I’m still looking to find an answer for. So watch this space.

Where are you from again?

So, going back to the title of this article – What’s in a name? Well, when it comes to Montepulciano quite a bit apparently. Montepulciano can invoke different thoughts in different people. A place, a variety, or both.

My hope, with this article, is that when you next think Montepulciano that you spare an additional thought for Molise Rosso DOC.

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