The taste of Abruzzo

The charm of Abruzzo lies very much on the geographical variety the region offers and not to mention, the fact that it is still basically unspoiled. A place where Italy is still… well, I will go as far as saying, “still Italy”. A place where traditions have been carried on for centuries and modesty has always been a way of life and is mirrored in the elegant wines with an understated note being produced today.

Montepulciano d'Abruzzo Illuminati

Montepulciano d’Abruzzo – A collection of old vintages in the cellar of the Illuminati winery in Controguerra.

When it comes to wine, Abruzzo has been making leaps and bounds in the last decades by raising its grape growing and wine making standards by focusing on quality rather than quantity. There are possibly some exceptions in when it comes to breaking with tradition but in this case it surely isn’t negative at all.

There are a variety of fine labels offering Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and Trebbiano wines of high quality at extremely favourable consumer prices which are adding to their international popularity.

Nature’s offerings

The calcium rich and moraine soils found in the mountainous west and the rolling hills with clay and sandy soils towards the Adriatic Sea to the east are very favourable wine growing conditions. 36 000 hectares are dedicated to wine growing with 80% found in the “Collina” region, sandwiched between the high Apennines and the 160 Kilometre segment of the Adriatic Coast.

Vineyards and Olive Groves Castello di Semivicoli - Masciarelli - Abruzzo

View of the vineyards and olive groves from Castello di Semivicoli overlooking the Chieti hillside all the way to the Adriatic coast.

The weather can be a little bit trickier when it comes to cooperating in the winegrowing process with a continental climate reigning inland and a milder climate present in the coastal region. The summers can be too dry at times and the sunny dry periods can change very quickly to rain and wind with little notice. The temperature can be as high as 30 ºC during the day and drop to as low as 10 ºC at night during the harvest. It is therefore that much more important to be able to read the weather properly in order to harvest in an efficient and optimal manner.

Working well with the natural conditions

The Abruzzo region has only recently begun shedding its image as a mass wine production region catering to the larger winemakers in the north who used the full bodied wines to add to their own blends.

Many of the positive changes have been brought about by internationally renowned and respected winemakers such as Gianni Masciarelli (since his passing 2009, the winery has been run by his wife Marina Cvetic and daughter Miriam as a recent addition at the helm), Emidio Pepe and Edoardo Valentini (since his passing in 2006, the winery has been run by his very capable son Francesco). These winemakers have proven the high potential which Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and Trebbiano grape varieties possess by producing a number of elegant wines with an unmistakable territorial fingerprint which have gone on to become some of the finest wines Italy has to offer.

Pruning grapevines in Abruzzo

After the harvest is before the harvest. The work done in the vineyard pre-growing season, in this case the pruning, is very important in the winemaking process.

Other reputed winemakers in the region include: Dino Illuminati, Luigi Cataldi (Cataldi Madonna) and Leonardo Pizzolo (Valle Reale), Fratelli Monti, Cascina del Colle, Marramiero, Agriverde, La Valentina, Nicodemi, Il Feuduccio, Zaccagnini, Santoleri and Pasetti.

One could go on praising the natural conditions and hard working winemakers in Abruzzo but I suggest you take the time to experience these fine wines for yourself, either in the region (where, I feel, the wines always taste better) or by visiting your nearest wine dealer.

The main grape varieties

Montepulciano d’Abruzzo

Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is a type of wine grape as well as a type of red wine made from these same grapes in the Abruzzo region of east-central Italy. Up to 10% Sangiovese is permitted to be added to the blend. It is typically a fruity, dry wine with soft tannins, and as such is often consumed young. If aged by the winery for more than two years, the wine may be labelled “Riserva.” This wine should not be confused with Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, a Tuscan wine made from Sangiovese and other grapes, but not the Montepulciano variety.

Trebbiano d’Abruzzo

Trebbiano is a white grape and also the most common white grape varietal in Italy, accounting for around a third of all Italy’s white wine. It is cited in over 80 of Italy’s DOCs.
The grape is known as ‘Ugni Blanc’ in France, where it is also the most widely planted white grape. In France the grape is also known in some regions as ‘Clairette Ronde’, in Bulgaria and Portugal it’s called ‘Thalia’, and in Corsica they call it ‘Rossola’. In total the variety almost certainly produces more white wine than any other grape in the world.

Dried Trebbiano grapes in Abruzzo

Trebbiano grapes. What looks like late harvest is actually forgotten harvest. These grapes were left on the vine, maybe they weren’t yet mature at the time of harvest, and when I picked them (in the month of January) they were bursting with flavour, extremely concentrated, and the juice was not only viscous but silky smooth. So good.

Though there are some notable and complex Trebbiano d’Abruzzo wines on the market, they are the exception and not the rule. In general the grape varietal is known for producing average wines with fairly high acidity. The best example I’ve ever had the opportunity of drinking was Valentini’s 1996 vintage… a unicorn among other Trebbiano examples.
Wines to look out for and you probably never heard of

I’m always on the lookout for new tastes so I’m a huge fan of wine varietals I’ve never heard of or haven’t yet had the opportunity to taste. Here are a couple I feel you should seek out and would definitely like to see the region concentrate more on such unappreciated and hidden gems.

Pecorino

Though most people first think of cheese when they hear Pecorino, it also happens to be a grape variety. The origins of the Pecorino vines have never been clearly identified but it is believed they belong to the “Italic” family belonging to the Trebbiano variety. It’s a vine which has flourished in central Italy over the centuries, especially in the Marches and Abruzzo region. It is also found in neighbouring areas of Molise and Latium, but is also known under various names. For example, in Macerata the same vine is called “Vissanello”.

The wines produced from the Pecorino grape tend to be light to mid-bodied, floral, herbal and have great minerality. Made predominantly as still wines, I’ve witnessed more and more sparkling wines made from the varietal popping up as of late. Pecorino pairs fantastically with intense fish and seafood dishes or delicate meat dishes and creamy cheeses.

Passerina

The Passerina grape is one which is mainly grown in the Marches but is finding a revival in Abruzzo as well. Used mainly as a blending wine in the past due to its fresh character and high acidity, some producers have recently been bottling the wine as a single varietal as of late, and doing so with much success.

The best examples are acidicly well balanced, structured and very aromatic, think ripe citrus fruit. Like Pecorino, very noticeable minerality is also a character trait of the Passerina grape.

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