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Know Your Variety - Montepulciano

Adam Walls cuts through the confusion about Montepulciano, the dark, brooding Italian Red wine that’s going great guns in Australia

Besides being tricky to pronounce, Montepulciano is one of the more complicated grapes. You see, there's an Italian town called Montepulciano, which produces a wine called Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. But, this wine is mostly made from Sangiovese, and doesn't actually include any of the Montepulciano grape!

A Quick Guide to Montepulciano

Montepulciano Australian Infographic

The most famous examples of Montepulciano (the actual wine) come from the Italian region of Abruzzo, but it's planted throughout much of central and southern Italy, but nowhere near the town of the same name.

Thankfully, as a grape grown in Australia, it's much more straightforward and in true Aussie style, we've taken away the pronunciation problem by shortening it to 'Monte'.

In its very short lifespan here in Australia, Monte is starting to win international acclaim. Last year, at the International Wine Competition in London, for the first time, Gold medals were given to Montes outside of Italy and they were won by two Australian wines - Bird in Hand and Mr Riggs.

Origins

Montepulciano wine origins in Abruzzo Italy

As I mentioned, Montepulciano is most famously made under the DOC of Montepulciano d'Abruzzo . A producer called Aziendo Agricola Valentini produces Italy's most renowned expression - it's like the Penfolds Grange of Monte - having taken it from a quaffing red to a serious, thrilling wine.

Australian Montepulciano Regions

Monte has had success in our warmer and cooler climates, possibly because it's a relatively late ripening variety. Also, like Shiraz, it's hardy, disease-resistant and can handle the heat and the cold. Look out for examples from Adelaide Hills Barossa Valley and Riverland .

Montepulciano Tasting Notes

Monte's appeal lies in its beautifully generous fruit, including red plum, sour cherry and boysenberry, and moderate acidity, so I reckon if you love Australian Shiraz , you'll love Monte, too.

Food Matching

The general fruit intensity and richness of Monte mean that it's a natural match to an array of rich and intensely flavoured dishes. Some of my favourites include Guy Grossi's pappardelle with spiced veal ragu recipe,  braised beef shin and pepperoni pizza. Explore our great range of recipes here .

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Merlot Members Tasting
Words by Ralph Kyte Powell on 4 Jun 2018
Merlot is a mystery to a lot of us. Many other red wine grapes have much more recognisable varietal personalities, giving them more immediate impact than Merlot . Cabernet Sauvignon , for example, nearly always says ‘Cabernet’ emphatically, via varietal cues that cut across the vagaries of region, climate, winemaking, and culture. Blackcurranty character, leafy austerity, angular, savoury personality and tannic backbone mark Cabernet-based wines, apparent even in warmer, riper versions. So it is with Pinot Noir ’s distinctive fruit characters, softness and silken structure. Pinot Noir says Pinot Noir loud and clear, but what of Merlot? Confusing Merlot’s identity crisis is the multiplicity of different styles available. In the coolest places, the variety’s leafiness can become too herbal and green; in the warmest places, it can be big, jammy and soupy. When overcropped and made on an industrial scale, Merlot can be washed out, sometimes sweet, a simple quaffer. In the middle of all this, we find Merlot’s ideal spot in skillfully tended vineyards in temperate areas. Here we encounter suggestions of plum, mulberry and fruitcake, raspberry, cherry, violet, spice and dried herb hints, maybe chocolate and olive from oak input. These wines tend to be soft, plump and juicy, worthy of plenty of attention as a friendlier type of red wine than tannic Cabernet or Shiraz . Compared to Cabernets, Merlots are generally much lower in methoxypyrazines too. These compounds in grapes give raw, green, herbaceous characters that can be shrill and unpleasant, another reason for good Merlot’s friendly personality. Cabernet’s comrade Merlot’s historic role as a blending variety also tends to compromise its individual identity. In its Bordeaux home, its early ripening characteristics act as insurance against the later ripening Cabernet Sauvignon, especially across difficult vintages. Merlot develops higher sugar levels and riper fruit characters weeks before Cabernet, and it’s planted much more widely in the Bordeaux region as a result. Its rich, supple personality tempers Cabernet’s more severe traits in a blend, and it usually doesn’t need nearly as much mellowing bottle age to be gluggable. Around the world Merlot’s fortunes have been improving worldwide over the last few decades as plantings have expanded into new territory. Chile has been at the forefront and has built a large export market for easy-sipping Merlot. In the Old World, Merlot has been replacing other more mediocre varieties in vineyards across the European continent. Its international appeal and reputation for friendly wine has supported vast new plantings in places like France’s south-west as the French hit back after the inroads New World wineries have made in their traditional markets. French wine drinkers possibly don’t know Merlot by name very well, but they like it and so do their international customers. American consumers have an idea what to expect from Merlot – softness, maybe a little sweetness, easy drinking. New Zealanders are also familiar with Merlot’s easy manners and the variety has traditionally sparred with Pinot Noir as the red of choice for Kiwis. In recent times, NZ Pinot has been ascendant, but Merlot is still in the mix. Generally, Australians are much less Merlot-aware. No mention of Merlot can be made without referring to the cult American movie Sideways . In the USA, Merlot is the second most popular red wine grape after Cabernet Sauvignon, mainly due to vast quantities of soft, low tannin reds that appeal to wine novices. In Sideways , made in 2004, wine tragic and wine snob Miles rails loudly against Merlot. “If anybody orders Merlot, I’m leaving. I am not drinking any f…ing Merlot,” he declares, and his comments contributed to a drop in Merlot sales in the USA, the UK, and probably Australia. Merlot has recovered, but I suspect a slightly negative perception lingers, helped by Merlot’s lack of a distinct varietal identity in the minds of many consumers. Taste expectations So to discover what makes Merlot tick, we recently gathered together a panel of eight keen Merlot fans from the ranks of Wine Selectors Members for a tasting dinner at Melbourne’s Papa Goose restaurant. Joining them were Selector publisher, Paul Diamond and yours truly. Sixteen wines from across Australia were served masked in brackets of four. South Australia was represented by seven wines from a diversity of regions, with the emphasis on somewhat cooler places like the Adelaide Hills , Eden Valley and Limestone Coast/Coonawarra regions. Victorian wines included examples from the Yarra Valley , the Pyrenees and the warm vineyards of Rutherglen , while New South Wales and Western Australia presented a cross-section of vineyard sources. As we sat down to taste, we made a quick survey of what the Members looked for in Merlot. “I like Merlot because it’s not too heavy,” said Wine Selectors Member, Darren Dean, “It’s soft, easy to drink, sweet and smooth.” Fellow Member Ingrid Fraser agreed. “They are soft, complete wines, plump and lovely,” she said. Paul looked for, “consistency of mouthfeel, smooth texture, seamlessness.” Softness and smoothness were terms most tasters used to describe Merlot’s general appeal. Were these characteristics reinforced as the dinner progressed and the group came to terms with the wines served? Paired to perfection Matching food and wine is much discussed in the gastronomic world. Carefully constructed dishes, devised with a particular type of wine in mind, can offer experiences that transcend the simple idea of eating and drinking. When we consider food-friendly wines, the softer, lighter, lower tannin drops offer more food compatibilities than bigger, tougher wines. Thus, Pinot Noir, or softer, cool climate style Shiraz, works well where the big bruisers fall short. On this basis, Merlot should excel as a food wine, and as the dinner progressed, the pairings proved harmonious. This was due to Papa Goose chef Neale White’s intuitive ability to create Merlot-compatible dishes to complement the wines. The four course menu began with a superb dish that echoed Merlot’s charm. Cured and smoked duck breast was accompanied by beetroot, raspberry and red sorrel, all flavours that dovetailed superbly with the first bracket of wines. Gnocchi with king oyster mushroom, tarragon and amaretti cream pointed up the depths of the following group of four wines, with rich flavours and textures woven through aromatic ones. Eyebrows were raised when we saw that the porterhouse with red wine sauce was coming with caraway coleslaw – caraway can be formidable – but the dish’s subtlety actually drew out some of the foresty, herbal notes in the wines, making the sum of the parts far more than the individual inputs. Cheese can be problematic with a lot of wines, but the mild, mature Pynegana Cheddar, served to finish dinner, had fruity accompaniments of chutney, quince paste and muscatels to temper it. Merlot stood up to the entire menu, confirming its delicious suitability at the table. The dinner confirmed in everybody’s eyes that Australian Merlot does indeed have its own distinct personality, and that it deserves to be centre stage alongside better-known brethren like Shiraz, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon. Merlot should be on everybody’s shopping list.
Wine
Salute to Shiraz
Words by Mark Hughes on 19 Jul 2017
We examine the remarkable success of Australian Shiraz through the eyes of some of those who know it best,  Australia's First Families of Wine. Is there any wine more symbolic of Australia than  Shiraz ? Hard working, popular and a great lover of food, it is just as much a descriptor for an Aussie living abroad, as it is for our famed Shiraz. The fact that we call it 'Shiraz' is just the first of many ways we have adopted this varietal as our own. In the rest of the world it is called 'Syrah' in reference to its French heritage, but as is our cultural right, we have corrupted the title to suit our style. To us, it 'Shiraz', with an emphasis on the 'raz'. But Shiraz suits us, too. In its spiritual home in the Rhône region in France, it is seen as a bit of a workhorse varietal, creating solid medium-weight red wines,  but certainly not escalating to the regal heights afforded the Cabernets of Bordeaux or the Pinots of Burgundy. In Australia, however, it is revered as our premium red, and rightly so, as it is capable of producing a range of delectable wines that can be consumed now, or aged for years. "It grows just about anywhere, and suits most of Australia's range of climates," says Hunter Valley winemaker Bruce Tyrrell. "With 61 different regions, there are 61 different styles." Tyrrell's  are one of the 12 members of  Australia's First Families of Wine (AFFW) , along with  Brown Brothers ,  d'Arenberg ,  De Bortoli , Campbells, Henschke,  Howard Park , Jim Barry,  McWilliam's , Taylors,  Tahbilk  and Yalumba. With over 1,300 years combined winemaking experience, and vineyards from coast to coast, the group is perfectly placed to tell the many faceted story of Australian Shiraz. After all, there is a true provenance with Shiraz and Australia's First Families - that sense of place, style and history that a wine develops from its consistent quality across vintages. "My family owns Shiraz vines that are 137 years old, and there are many older vineyards still in production around the country," says Scott McWilliam. "As winemakers, we've had lots of time to learn how to get the best of Shiraz, and we're seeing continued success with regions and new styles emerging frequently."   SPRINGBOARD TO SUCCESS
In many ways, the success of Shiraz in Australia mirrors that of Australia's  First Families. Starting small, this varietal has, through its proud history, earned integrity and respect deserved and given the world over. Alister Purbrick from Tahbilk in Victoria's Nagambie Lakes points out that the versatility of Australian Shiraz put us centre stage in the world of wine and paved the way for our export market. "This success means that Australia boasts a critical mass of many styles of Shiraz which have captivated the world's influencers," says Alister. "The result is that Australia 'owns' this variety and ownership of a segment is a powerful position to be in."   SENSATIONAL STYLES
Scott McWilliam from McWilliam's Wines   So what are the different styles of Shiraz? In Alister's neck of the woods, where the moderating influence of an inland water mass keeps the climate between cool and moderate, the resulting style of Nagambie Lakes Shiraz is "savoury and mid-weight with a myriad of subtle flavours which tend to change and evolve as the bottle is consumed," says Alister. The Hunter Valley style is also savoury, "light to mid-weight with plenty of complexity with its base more in fruit and acid than in tannin and alcohol," says Bruce, who adds his perfect food match is aged Hunter Shiraz and flame-grilled, medium-rare Angus steak left to rest before it is served. Pioneers of the varietal in New South Wales, particularly in the Hunter Valley , McWilliam's have also been exploring Shiraz from the cooler Hilltops region. "Hilltops Shiraz is a beautiful example of a medium-bodied style," says Scott. "It has fruit forward characters with supple yet complex spicy aromatics and fleshy blue fruits, but it's not quite as peppery or jammy as Shiraz from other regions."   SOUTH OZ SHIRAZ
Jim Barry and Tom Barry from Jim Barry Wines If any region can lay claim to the most recognisable style of Australian Shiraz, it is the Barossa, its big, fruity wines of the 1980s and 90s established us on the world wine map. It makes perfect sense, as the state can lay claim to the oldest Shiraz vines in the world. First planted in the Barossa Valley in the mid 1800s, these vines were around 50 years old when phylloxera decimated the original root stock across France and greater Europe in the 1900s. Now over 160 years old, these same vines are responsible for producing some of the most lauded Shiraz in the world. "Many of the younger vineyards have been planted using these heritage vineyards as sources," explains Robert Hill-Smith, from Australia's oldest family-owned winery, Yalumba. "In the Barossa, we are very lucky to have not only a perfect Mediterranean-style climate, but also a diverse range of soils types and terroirs and Shiraz thrives in them all. "In the higher and cooler Eden Valley , aromas and flavours are more aromatic - red and blue fruits with violets, sage, pepper, and the wines more elegant and linear than in the warmer Barossa Valley where they're round and velvety and show more blue and black fruits - dark cherry, fruitcake, plum, blackberry, mulberry, black olives, chocolate and liquorice." Other wine regions in South Australia can also boast Shiraz of world renown, McLaren Vale , in particular. d'Arenberg's colourful winemaker Chester Osborn says the different soil types and sub-climes of McLaren Vale can result in many different types of Shiraz, but overall attributes "a certain savoury, fragrant, flowery edge to McLaren Vale Shiraz, full, but elegant and quite spicy with a crushed ant character that sets it apart from other regions." Known for its Riesling, the Clare Valley is emerging as a stellar region for Shiraz. Mitchell Taylor, third generation managing director and winemaker at Taylors Wines says Clare Shiraz has a certain powerful elegance and finesse you don't see from many other places. "Because of the Clare's climate of long, warm sunny days and cool nights, the fruit develops and ripens slowly," he explains. "This ensures the rich flavours develop into more subtle and elegant characteristics, but with great concentration of flavour."   EXPRESS YOURSELF
Darren DeBortoli of DeBortoli Wines In the cool climates, Shiraz is expressed as a much leaner wine, while still showing its famed fruit profile. This is certainly true of Victoria's Yarra Valley where Shiraz is still savoury and spicy, but also shows a certain elegance. "Yarra Shiraz is medium bodied and elegant in style," says De Bortoli red winemaker, Sarah Fagan. "Lifted aromatics and grainy tannins are also commonplace." Katherine Brown, winemaker at Brown Brothers, explains they get most of their fruit for their iconic 18 Eighty Nine Shiraz from the central Victorian region of Heathcote and, as such, you may find a touch of eucalyptus in their Shiraz, which she describes as having "vibrant purple colours with rich blackberry and plum fruit and black pepper clove spice." In the warmer Rutherglen region of Victoria, Shiraz is expressed in a bolder style such as Campbell's famed Bobbie Burns Shiraz, which is a rich, full flavoured red with ripe berry fruit balanced by oak with a long, soft tannin finish.   GO WEST
Howard Park's Burch Family   In recent times, Western Australia has proven to be a mecca for many wine varietals, with Shiraz no exception. One of the state's premier producers is Howard Park and its chief winemaker Janice McDonald says the Great Southern sub-regions of Frankland and Mount Barker are where Shiraz reigns supreme. "The cooler, more continental climes of these sub-regions are favoured for growing our Flint Rock Shiraz," she says. "The wines display a great intensity of dark fruits with traces of spice, earth and soft tannins. The use of fine grain French oak crafts a layered and complex wine."   BLENDED FAMILIES
The Henschke Family   One of the other great qualities of Shiraz is that it blends beautifully with other varietals. We are famed globally for our 'great Australian red' - Shiraz Cabernet (see Tyson Stelzer's story on this iconic blen in the July/August issue of  Selector ). The reason these two great wines work so well together is due to the firm, fruity body of Australian Shiraz perfectly filling out the mid-palate of Cabernet, such as we see in the Jim Barry Shiraz Cabernet from Clare Valley. Other popular blends include Shiraz Viognier, Shiraz Grenache, while the GSM blend, Grenache Shiraz Mataro, has a long and successful history in Australia. Henschke's Henry's Seven is a delicious blend of Shiraz, Grenache, Mataro and Viognier. "It is a tribute to Henry Evans, who planted the first vineyard at Keyneton in 1853," explains Justine Henschke, who challenges the traditional steak and Shiraz pairing. "We love to recommend game meats such as duck, venison and kangaroo. Lamb is an excellent match, too."   A SHIRAZ FUTURE
Bruce Tyrrell inspecting the vineyards   Winemakers love Shiraz for its reliability, impressive yields and resistance to disease; drinkers love it because it is delicious when young, even more beguiling with some age and is great with a range of foods. But its crowning glory is its versatility, its ability to express itself beautifully across many wine regions. And that's key to the success of Australian Shiraz globally. "The world now accepts that we do it better than anyone else," says Bruce. "The future for Australian Shiraz is endless, as long as winemakers stay true to the variety and the region where it is grown."  
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