While shopping around for a wine dinner centered on vintage wines from the 80s, we happened upon a phenomenon that apparently many wine geeks are already aware of: Emidio Pepe. As owners of a California wine store, the expected move for us would be to bring an age worthy California Cabernet (yes, they do exist) and we did just that for our first wine. As predictable as it may have been, the 1986 Dunn Howell Mountain Cabernet was indescribably delicious, in peak drinking condition, and the wine of the night all around. But that was too easy.
We summarily dismissed Bordeaux, Barolo, and Burgundy as just too typical for our second selection. We even resisted a 1980s López de Heredia white because it seems like every wine hipster out there gets off on singing the praises of Lopez de Heredia and there's no challenge in that.
Not ready to give in, we spied a range of 80s vintage wines from a producer unknown to us, Emidio Pepe.
Even more mysterious was the fact that the wines were all Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, a soft, approachable red wine made from the Montepulciano grape in the Abruzzi region east of Rome, Italy. Most of the Montepulciano d'Abruzzo wines out there are recent vintage stuff – 2008, 2009 even – and $20 or (way) less. Now this was something we could jump in to headfirst.
Some quick iphone research taught us that Emidio Pepe has been producing, since the 60s, complex, age worthy wines in an area where mostly mediocre, mass produced wines are being made. His wines are known to be constantly evolving and vary greatly from vintage to vintage. His biodynamically farmed vineyards are close to the ocean and the mountains, which lends a unique character to the wines, as does the way the wine is made. The wine is aged in glass-lined cement versus oak; it’s naturally fermented, and bottled without SO2. The wines can be too funky for some but for anyone looking for an unforgettable wine experience you’re heading in the right direction with Emidio Pepe. Apparently, a reserve of older vintages is kept in the cellar and the 80s wines we were seeing had just been re-released in to the market.
We picked up the 1980 Emidio Peppe Montepulciano d'Abruzzo for the dinner and it did not disappoint. Sure, the nose was wild and threw off a hint of nail polish aroma but the palate was silky smooth with fresh fruit, herbal notes, and bright acidity; a real thrill to taste. The wine was joined by other superb choices including 1985 Raffault Chinon, 1983 Brane Cantenac, the 1986 Dunn Howell Mountain, and a lovely dessert wine Mas Amiel; quite an inspiring lineup. All were great but I think I’ll always remember that first experience with a wine, and a winemaker, that is bucking the trend and doing something unexpected in the name of expression. If you have the chance to experience a wine from Emidio Pepe, don’t pass it up. Cheers.