~ Emidio Pepe still guides his family estate ~

Emidio Pepe is an iconic producer of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and a standard bearer for the region.  Where many produce bland, generic wines from this workhorse grape,  Pepe has been elevating Montepulciano since the 1960’s.  While most Montepulciano d’Abruzzo would be undrinkable on their 10th birthday, Pepe’s wines are often just rounding into form at that age.  In fact, most vintages almost need that sort of patience.  Back in 2014, I sat down for a lengthy interview with Emidio’s grand daughter Chiara.  That was the last time I tasted the subject of today’s article.

~ Everything is done by hand at Pepe. Here, Nonna Rosa Pepe, 78 years young is decanting an aged Montepulciano into a new bottle that will then be labeled and released for sale. Pepe corks are also branded with the year of “decantation” so you will know how long Emidio Pepe has held the wine in his cellar prior to release ~

Here is a brief excerpt from that interview which I think speaks volumes about the philosophy at Emidio Pepe.

You do not employ the use of any wood barrels for aging, correct? Only glass lined cement tanks? Why is that?

No barrels, exactly. First because it was never used in Abruzzo and it’s not traditional at all and our purpose is to make a great Montepulciano and Trebbiano d’Abruzzo that is an authentic, classic expression and example of those two grapes.

Second, my grandfather never wanted to interfere or change the wine’s personality and its flavors. That’s why he never used any oak and only used concrete.  The oak changes the wine a lot while the concrete lined with glass is completely neutral and doesn’t give anything to the wine. This way, we can keep the characteristics as nature gave it to us. Plus, with oak there’s a lot of micro-oxygenation that in a certain way ages the wine in a very short time. We want our wine to be young for a longer time, that’s why we use concrete lined with glass, this doesn’t let the oxygen in and keeps the freshness in the wine for very long time.

Compared to most wineries, you release your wines very late. What criteria do you use for when a wine is ready to be released? Who makes the decision?

Grandfather always thought that Montepulciano needs at least 9-10 years age before it’s ready to express all it can and show as we want. We like to release the wine when it’s ready, not when the market wants it to be ready.

~ Hmmm, I wonder which of these bottles of 2003 ultimately found its way to my table? ~

The 2003 Emidio Pepe Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is a completely different wine than it was in 2014.  Oh, it was good then but now, it’s spectacular.   The color has not budged as it’s a deep garnet red with purple highlights to the core.  The wine was opened about 45 minutes before dinner but not decanted.  On the nose of the wine, aromas of crushed black and purple plums are enticing and accompanied by leather and herb notes.  It smells young; as though it were a 2013.  On the palate the wine is equally impressive.  Large scaled walls of velvety black plum fruit caress the palate where soft black pepper, dried tobacco and dusty earth notes are woven in for complexity.  It is long, plump, round and elegant with only moderate tannins toward the finish.  Plenty of balanced acidity keeps the wine fresh.  Most of the tannins have resolved and thus, there is a substantial sediment at the bottom of the bottle which eventually needed to be removed.  Be warned.  Delicious now, this still has the architecture to cellar another 5 years at least if you want.  But I love it today.  Bravo!  94 points.  About $70 upon release.  Find this wine.

~ These wines reward cellaring and mature into something delicious and unique ~

Stay tuned for much more coming this week~

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