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Preasidium’s austere Montepulciano and its gentler 2012 vintage

by Claudio Celio

Prezza is a tiny village of inland Abruzzi overlooking Valle Peligna, a valley close to Sulmona that's considered the birthplace and cradle of Montepulciano, whence the variety spread out, in time, towards the Adriatic sea and most of central Italy.

The original Latin name was Praesidium: “stronghold, garrison, citadel,” significantly chosen by this winery, which stands as a bulwark in defense of a certain Montepulciano philosophy, founded on the grape’s primordial connection with terroir and an uncompromising take on the variety – authentic rather than tempted by fruit-fraught, post-modernist versions or the quaffable, flirty Montepulcianos that have been quick to emerge in recent years.

In the hands of Enzo Pasquale first, then his children, Ottaviano and Antonia, who run Praesidium today, Montepulciano shows an almost austere personality, which makes little or no allowance for levity. Before you can pierce Praesidium Montepulciano’s cloak of austerity and reserve, you generally need to wait several years, and those desiring to enjoy the estate’s range to the full must arm themselves with patience.

There are, however, exceptions to the rule and the most significant one in recent years is surely the 2012 vintage, which, counter to expectations, is enormously satisfying even if tasted now.

That year, in Ottaviano’s words, was “an extreme vintage. In wintertime, it snowed very heavily, so much so the vineyards were buried beneath almost a meter and a half of snow. This was followed by severe drought in spring and summer: the lack of rainfall for over three months put a lot of stress on the vines, and we even feared for their survival.”

Yet, Ottaviano continues, the vineyards “reacted well to these extreme conditions, yielding a beautifully balanced wine” that, after its initial shyness owing to still-conspicuous wood notes, has opened up and shown truly awesome fruit integrity.

Beneath the dark, earthy nuances recalling humus, ground coffee and mulberry, you can detect the purest hint of marasca cherry and sweet licorice. A truly complex, layered bouquet is confirmed on a palate that’s just as convincing, with almost no trace of the severity that usually characterizes this wine. Tannins, moreover, are already well integrated and sustain a chewy, rich texture that finishes on balsamic, almost refreshing notes. 2012 is a gentler vintage that manages to be enjoyable even now, albeit without renouncing its decidedly remarkable longevity. Here is a wine that not only requires but demands suitable pairing with food, meat in particular: ideal as a match with typical Abruzzi mountain dishes like lamb, sheep, hare or wild boar stew.