I’ve been a fan of Emidio Pepe wines for a few years now. I wrote about my first experience with Emidio Pepe Montepulciano d’Abruzzo back in 2014 when I opened the 2003 vintage. It changed my perspective on wine, on what wine could taste like, and the beauty of drinking wines with age.
So when I had the chance to purchase the 1983 vintage, I jumped at it. The original Emidio Pepe started making wine in 1899, but it wasn’t until 1964 that his grandson, also Emidio Pepe, began crafting the world-class Montepulciano d’Abruzzo that would become a cult favorite. In the past 53 years, the family has been making this wine with crazy attention to detail, and I hear they maintain library offerings going back to the mid-1960s.
I had read many positive tasting notes about this 1983, so I was excited and optimistic about opening it, but I will admit, when I first opened the bottle, I was on the verge of tears. It smelled so dirty, earthy and funky, my gut told me it must be spoiled, flawed, or dead. I was heartbroken.
I took a second. Gathered myself. Poured a small bit into my glass to smell again, and this time taste. Waves of relief swept through me as I broke down the nose, no wet cardboard, no rotten smells, no vinegar, and could I believe it, emerging from the earth and mushroom and forest floor, I was detecting cherries, red plums, dried fruits and more. I was ecstatic.
Looking at it, you could definitely see the age on the wine. The garnet core moved to amber and orange on the rim, and the bottle threw quite a lot of sediment. Like the 2003, but on steroids, this was a wine that evolved in the glass, with the nose and palate constantly changing, revealing something new or more that wasn’t there the previous sip. Emidio Pepe rewards patience, and throughout I experienced those bright red fruits, then dry/dessicated fruit flavors, sandalwood, sweet tobacco, balsamic vinegar, dried flowers, dirty leather, orange peel, dried leaves,and even a hint of wet stones in the finish. All played seamlessly, weaving in and out. The tannins were pretty much gone, but the acidity was still bright. When I got to my last sip, I was both sad that my wine was gone, but immensely satisfied that I had taken my time to really savor the aromas and flavors in the glass.
The wine itself was made from grapevines farmed with certified organic and biodynamic practices. Grapes were hand-harvested in traditional wooden tubs, destemmed by hand, then vinified with only natural yeast in small, glass-lined cement tanks where it was aged for two years. Afterward, the wine was bottled without fining or filtration then aged for a minimum of 19 years before release (for my bottle, that’s 30+ years of aging.) Then Rosa, or Mama Pepe, decanted the bottles by hand. It’s a long, labor intensive process, but in my mind and to my palate, worth every last detail.