It was probably 15 or 20 years ago when I first tasted Monte Antico. It was one of those inexpensive Italian reds located in the value section of the discount wine store where I often shopped in those days. You know, the area where the bottles stand upright in their boxes, the cardboard partially cut away to reveal the wines.
I quickly glommed on to this one and served it with countless homemade sauces over pasta, which were minor culinary triumphs in that first apartment with its cramped, poor excuse of a kitchen. My future in-laws also liked it a lot when I poured it for them, as I recall, which wasn't a bad thing. I think it was all of $7 or $8.
We'll fast forward. Monte Antico remains the highly reliable wine that it was back then, as I discovered at a recent tasting of the 2004 vintage. In fact, it’s more than that. Monte Antico, which means “ancient mountain,” is a delicious, ready-to-drink wine that packs a good deal of complexity for the price, still around $ 11 or so after all those years.
Just what is it? Monte Antico, now with a plastic red cork in a sign of the times, is a Tuscan wine made mostly from sangiovese, the region’s signature variety and best known as the backbone of Chianti. There’s also a little merlot and cabernet sauvignon in the Monte Antico mix. The grapes come from a cross-section of vineyard sites and terrains and are blended, which helps maintain consistency from year to year.
Medium-bodied and easy to drink, Monte Antico shows notes of blueberry, cherry and plum and touches of leather and cedar that are evidence of its aging in oak barrels. The wine will match well with all kinds of meats, chicken, pasta sauces and even pizza. You’ll find it superior to most entry-level Chiantis at the same price.
We opened a bottle one night to serve with a tomato-meat sauce. When we finished it a couple of days later with the rest of the sauce at a quick weekend lunch, it was still drinking nicely, though a couple of days is probably the limit before it will start to turn. Monte Antico would also be a nice antidote to more generic wine at just about any large dinner gathering or reception (note to hotel catering staffs).
When I Googled Monte Antico, 59,200 entries popped up, suggesting that it is in wide circulation and will be available just about everywhere. Yearly production has gotten up to more than 80,000 cases.
Bottom line: look no further for a very good, well-priced red to grab on your way to that next dinner party or on your way home tonight. The importer is Empson USA.
Edward Deitch's wine column appears Wednesdays. He welcomes comments from readers. Write to him at EdwardDeitch@hotmail.com.
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