What kind of place do you normally end up at if you fancy a simple meal when out in town? If you'd like a basic but decent bottle of wine that's very food friendly and also good value, it's still hard to beat a simple Italian Trattoria. True, a lot of them are now looking like tired dinosaurs compared to the endless noodle bars and fusion eating spots that are starting to grab the 'simple but decent' market away from them. However, there are still lots of great family run Italian places around London and they are one of the few types of eatery where the wine is reasonably priced and well matched to the food. More often than not the lists are all Italian wines and they are normally clustered around £10 to £20 a bottle which is just what you want when keeping it simple. You can typicially get a bottle of something savoury and satisfying for around £15 which is nigh on impossible in most other places. So what wines are a good bet on the list of an Italian Trattoria? Well, there are several candidates depending on exactly what nosh you're going for, but there's one wine that seems to be on every Trattoria list that's often a good choice; Montepulciano d'Abruzzo.
The appellation is slightly unusual in that it applies to wines across the whole region of Abruzzo, which is found East of the Apennines in Central Italy. The wines are made from pure Montepulciano, which is a bit like a softer and friendlier version of Sangiovese; it's not as high in tannin or acidity (though not lacking in either) and its fruit flavours are richer and rounder. Being a very large appellation, there is obviously a great deal of variation in quality and style. It makes wines from simple and friendly quaffing numbers through to very serious structured examples for quite long ageing. However, it's generally good value at all price points and is often the best choice in your local Italian.
When I was last in mainland Italy I spend a couple of weeks in Abruzzo and Le Marche, visiting as many producers as I could fit in. One of the ones I loved visiting in Abruzzo was Zaccagnini, who make a whole range of Montepuciano d'Abruzzo wines.
I find (as is so often the case in Italy) the product lines at Zaccagnini a bit confused, with a range of different etiquettes (label styles) that don't seem to have anything to do with each other at all. However, poor brand definition aside, they make some great wines. The three principal wines are Tralceto (medium ageing in old oak), Chronicon (longer ageing in old oak) and St Clemente (longer ageing in new and old oak).
I took some of each of these home in my boot and had my first bottle of Chronicon last night. Being very familiar and fond of the Tralceto, which is so fresh and delicious, I was slightly nervous that I might find the Chronicon over-oaked. However, I needn't have worried. It was markedly more oaked than the Tralceto, but it was perfectly balanced with the extra stuffing and depth that also came with it - the oak was in fact very well integrated. Full of dark brambly fresh fruit flavours with some chocolate and dried fruit secondary stuff going on, it was a seriously good wine that had more elegance and subtlety that you would have bet on. Complex, well structured and long it was a real winner.
I'd be very surprised if you found any of Zaccagnini's Montepulciano d'Abruzzo wines in your local Trattoria, but give whichever one they have on their list a go and you might do well.