Understanding the Difference Between Montepulciano and Montepulciano d'Abruzzo (once and for all)

There are so many Italian wines out there, so when there's one that shares the same or similar name, it’s only natural to feel confused. And, that probably happens when you hear the word - Montepulciano.

It’s time to finally understand the difference between Montepulciano and Montepulciano D’Abruzzo, allowing you to strengthen your Italian wine knowledge and head into any wine shop or wine list strong.

So, if you want to understand the difference between Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Montepulciano D’Abruzzo, dive straight into the article below for all the information you need!

Montepulciano is both a grape and a place

The first thing to know about Montepulciano is that it is a red grape native to Italy. It is also the name of a town in southern Tuscany, with an extensive medieval history and wine culture. Now, let's take this one step further - the grape and the town aren’t exclusive to each other. The leading grape in Vino Nobile di Montepulciano - the most notable wine of Montepulciano - is made mostly of Sangiovese, the same grape used in Chianti and Brunello.

Many believed Sangiovese and Montepulciano to be the same grape for a long time. But, they are not, something you can see just by observing these two grapes in the glass. Sangiovese has a much lighter ruby color when young, whereas Montepulciano is much darker.

The origins of the Montepulciano grape are still quite uncertain

You may be wondering - if Montepulciano isn’t the main grape in Montepulciano then where did Montepulciano get its name from? Well, as obvious as it sounds, the most common belief is that Montepulciano the grape gets its name from the town of Montepulciano, way back in the day. Yet, sometimes this is hard to believe since Montepulciano doesn't grow in that area.

With 50% of the Montepulciano plantings in Abruzzo, others would beg to differ. Many locals like to say that this grape came from Abruzzo. While the historical proof isn't very present, Montepulciano’s home is most definitely more Abruzzo than Tuscany. This doesn’t just have to do with history but also genetics. With the majority of Montepulciano’s plantings in Abruzzo, it’s seen an abundance of genetic evolution affected by its environment. Just like culture, it adapts and evolves in its environment.

Montepulciano D’Abruzzo is not affiliated with the town of Montepulciano

The most famous wine made with Montepulciano grapes is Montepulciano D’Abruzzo. This DOC has nothing to do with the town of Montepulciano in Tuscany. Montepulciano D'Abruzzo is produced in an entirely different region (hint: it’s in the name!)

Abruzzo is the region home to this wine, producing it as far back as the 18th century (at least). This region is found in central Italy, bordering the Adriatic coast just east of the Apennine mountains. That said, Abruzzo is a very mountainous region, with Montepulciano's production happening mostly in the lower foothills and plains.

Montepulciano grape is behind multiple types of wine

While the town of Montepulciano is home to mainly two major wine denominations (Rosso di Montepulciano and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano,) the grape Montepulciano is found in other denominations (nine to be precise!) across four different Italian regions.

In Le Marche, Montepulciano grows under the appellations of Rosso Conero DOC, Esino DOC, Conero DOCG, and Offida DOCG. In Abruzzo, it is the main grape in Montepulciano D’Abruzzo DOC, Montepulciano D’Abruzzo Colline Teramane DOCG, and Controguerra DOC. Heading south to Molise, you will find Montepulciano behind the wines of Biferno DOC. Finally, in Puglia, Montepulciano grows under the DOC San Severo.

Montepulciano can - of course - be found in other regions, such as Umbria and Tuscany where it is various wine blends.

The Precise Differences Between Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano

Two wines have Montepulciano in their name that may confuse you - they are Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. If you’ve been reading this post, you probably can figure out what the differences are by now. But, we’re going to square them away precisely so that you always know which Montepulciano you are looking for.

First up - Montepulciano D’Abruzzo. This wine is made from Montepulciano grapes, produced only in Abruzzo, a region located in central-western Italy. Montepulciano D’Abruzzo varies in style, as the production area and the number of producers are wide. However - generally speaking - Montepulciano D’Abruzzo is a wine with a very concentrated fruit character and structured tannins. The young versions of this wine are very fruity, approachable, and made for easy drinking. Yet, there are Montepulciano D’Abruzzos that undergo more meticulous aging, especially the Riserva, which requires three years of aging (with at least six months in oak). The result can be a thought-provoking wine when made with love and care.

Now, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano - on the other hand - is a whole different wine. It is produced in the region of Tuscany, specifically in the Etruscan city of Montepulciano. The grape behind this wine is Sangiovese, which makes up at least 70 percent of the wine. Sangiovese has a much lighter color than the Montepulciano grape, making Vino Nobile di Montepulciano a lighter ruby-colored wine.


When it comes to character, Vino Nobile stands out with Sangiovese’s refreshing acidity, cherry flavors, and earthiness. As it ages - especially for Riservas - Vino Nobile can develop complex spice, leather, and even vegetal flavors. They are quite the steal, especially when compared to what their neighbor Brunello di Montalcino (made with the same grape, by the way) costs per bottle.

Buying Montepulciano Wines with Big Hammer

Navigating the ‘What is Montepulciano’ question is simpler with wine experts helping you through your Italian wine journey. The wine team at Big Hammer is always working with wines made from Montepulciano grapes or from Montepulciano (hopefully you are a little less confused now!) Never hesitate to reach out to us with your questions - we want to make sure you sip and have fun as you expand your wine knowledge.

Montepulciano Wines to Try

2021 Bollina Sampei Montepulciano d'Abruzzo DOC
2018 Tenuta Ulisse 'Amaranta' Montepulciano d'Abruzzo
2019 Torre Zambra Villamagna Montepulciano d'Abruzzo
2021 Talosa Rosso Di Montepulciano DOC
2016 Talosa Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano Riserva DOCG