Montepulciano is one of those Rodney Dangerfield grapes, the kind that gets no respect. It can be a crowd-pleaser for its pronounced, rounded fruitiness and soft tannins. A modest grape not prone to steal the spotlight from Sangiovese, for example. Always there, usually reliable, drinkable, if not remarkable.
In recent years, as is the case with many of Italy’s stalwart varietals, Montepulciano has begun to reverse its middle of the pack profile. One of the producers responsible for this change in perception is Dino Illuminati. Half of his 150 acres in the Contraguerra zone of northern Abruzzo are dedicated to the region’s most prolific grape. A mild, semi-maritime climate enhances the south-southwest-facing vineyards.
While many Abruzzese versions still come off as rustic and rough, Illuminati’s wine has an elegant flair and refinement. Smoky scents wind around ripe berries and mountain flowers. The requisite plummy lushness and depth of fruit are there, folding into a mild, balanced finish that features a touch of licorice.
Adjectives such as plummy, lush, and mild can sound like an unintended damning with faint praise, but the overall satisfaction and pleasure in the glass vault “Ilico” several steps above the ordinary.
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