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Abruzzo Wines: Taste Regional Excellence

Abruzzo wine
Montepulciano grapes - Photo: Peter Forster

Nestled along the Adriatic coast and stretching inland to the rugged Apennines, the Abruzzo region of Italy remains one of the country’s most picturesque and underappreciated wine-producing areas. With a winemaking heritage that dates back to the Etruscans, Abruzzo offers a stunning array of wines that encapsulate both the spirit of its people and the richness of its varied landscapes. This article embarks on an enological journey through the hills and coastal plains of Abruzzo, where tradition weaves through the vines and pours forth in every glass.

The Historical Roots of Abruzzo's Viticulture

Abruzzo's viticultural roots penetrate deep into the soil of history. The region's wines have been lauded since Roman times for their robust character and the rich, fertile soils that give rise to them. The Middle Ages saw Benedictine monks meticulously tending to vineyards, cultivating the grape varieties that define Abruzzo’s vinous identity even to this day.

The Quintessential Grapes: Montepulciano and Trebbiano

The most renowned ambassador of Abruzzo’s wine repertoire is Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. Not to be confused with the Tuscan town of Montepulciano, where the Sangiovese-based Vino Nobile is produced, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is crafted from the Montepulciano grape varietal. This robust red is known for its deep ruby color, rich berry flavors, and hint of spice, often with a velvety texture that matures with elegance.

Equally important yet often overshadowed is the Trebbiano d’Abruzzo, which shares its name with other Trebbiano wines but is distinct in its expression. This white wine is appreciated for its lemony zest and almond notes, a crisp counterpart to the region's reds.

A Symphony of Soils: The Diversity of Abruzzo's Terroir

Abruzzo's terroir is a mosaic of climates and soils, from the marine influences of the coast to the mountainous inland, which impart complexity and variety to its wines. The region's key wine-producing zones reflect this diversity:

  • Chieti: The most prolific zone, where the majority of Montepulciano and Trebbiano is cultivated, offers wines with a balance of fruit and acidity.
  • Teramo: Known for the esteemed Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Colline Teramane DOCG, Teramo’s wines are structured and age-worthy.
  • Pescara and L’Aquila: Though lesser-known, these areas contribute to the region's winemaking with unique microclimates that yield both traditional and innovative wines.

The Emerging Varietals: Pecorino and Passerina

Beyond the ubiquitous Montepulciano and Trebbiano, Abruzzo’s viticultural landscape is dotted with rising stars such as Pecorino and Passerina. Pecorino, once nearly extinct, has been revived to produce crisp, mineral-driven white wines with a floral bouquet. Passerina, another white grape, often features in both still and sparkling wines, delivering refreshment with a hint of citrus and green apple.

Crafting the Wines: The Intersection of Art and Science

The winemaking methods in Abruzzo span the spectrum from ancient to modern. Many producers adhere to time-honored traditions, aging their wines in large oak barrels or glass-lined concrete tanks to preserve the grapes’ inherent flavors. Yet, there’s also a wave of innovation sweeping through the region, with state-of-the-art cellars experimenting with new aging techniques and biodynamic farming, ensuring sustainability for future generations.

The Signature Styles: Age-Old Techniques and Modern Twists

Montepulciano d’Abruzzo comes in various styles:

  • Classico: Aged in large barrels or cement, it offers pure expressions of the grape.
  • Riserva: Subject to longer aging, these wines are more complex and suitable for cellaring.
  • Cerasuolo: A rosé style that retains the character of the red but with a lighter, more aromatic profile.

Trebbiano d’Abruzzo, on the other hand, is typically crafted to be enjoyed young, though the best examples can develop intriguing complexity with age.

The Heart of Abruzzo: Small Producers and Cooperative Wineries

Abruzzo’s wine production is characterized by a blend of small family-owned estates and large cooperative wineries. The small producers often focus on artisanal methods and limited production, while the cooperatives are able to harness resources and technology to produce wines that can compete on an international scale.

Pairing Abruzzo Wines: A Culinary Delight

The region’s wines are not merely beverages but integral components of Abruzzo’s culinary tradition. Montepulciano d’Abruzzo pairs beautifully with rich meat dishes and aged cheeses, while Trebbiano d’Abruzzo complements the local seafood, from Adriatic shellfish to grilled fish. Pecorino wines, with their crisp acidity, are perfect with the region's sheep’s milk cheeses and vegetable antipasti.

The Impact of Climate and Cultivation

With climate change posing new challenges, Abruzzese vintners are adapting their viticulture to maintain the high quality of their wines. They employ methods such as altitude planting and canopy management to mitigate the effects of warmer temperatures.

A Global Presence: Abruzzo on the World Wine Stage

Abruzzo’s wines have garnered international attention for their excellent quality-to-price ratio. The region has become a go-to for wine enthusiasts seeking value without sacrificing complexity and depth.

The Future of Abruzzo's Wines: Innovation Meets Tradition

The future of Abruzzo’s wine industry is as promising as its past is storied. Vintners continue to honor the legacy of their land while embracing innovation, ensuring that Abruzzo’s wines will captivate the palates of the next generation of wine lovers.

In Vino Veritas: The True Spirit of Abruzzo

In conclusion, the wines of Abruzzo embody the region’s spirit: unpretentious yet proud, rooted in the past yet always evolving. Each bottle is a testament to the tenacity of the Abruzzese people and their unyielding dedication to the land. As global appreciation for these Italian gems continues to grow, the wines of Abruzzo will no doubt take their place among the pantheon of Italy’s finest exports. From the hearty Montepulciano to the delicate Trebbiano, Abruzzo offers a wine for every palate, a story in every glass. Salute to the enduring and endearing wines of Abruzzo!

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Notable Wines of Abruzzo

Abruzzo has a wine production that primarily centers on two key grape varieties – Montepulciano for red and rosé wines and Trebbiano for whites. The comprehensive list of Abruzzo wines includes not only wines made from these principal grapes but also from other local and international varieties that are gaining prominence in the region. Below is a list that covers the most recognized denominations and types:

Denominations of Abruzzo Wines:

Montepulciano d'Abruzzo DOC:

  • Montepulciano d'Abruzzo (red)
  • Montepulciano d'Abruzzo Riserva (aged red)
  • Cerasuolo d'Abruzzo (rosé)
  • Trebbiano d'Abruzzo DOC:

  • Trebbiano d'Abruzzo (white)
  • Trebbiano d'Abruzzo Riserva (aged white)
  • Colline Teramane Montepulciano d'Abruzzo DOCG:

  • Colline Teramane Montepulciano d'Abruzzo (red)
  • Colline Teramane Montepulciano d'Abruzzo Riserva (aged red)
  • Other DOC Wines:

  • Villamagna DOC (focused on Montepulciano)
  • Controguerra DOC (includes reds, whites, rosés, and sparkling wines from various grape varieties)
  • Terre Tollesi or Tullum DOCG (red and white wines from Montepulciano and Trebbiano)
  • Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT):

  • Colline Pescaresi IGT
  • Colline Teatine IGT
  • Terre di Chieti IGT
  • Alto Tirino IGT
  • Del Vastese or Histonium IGT
  • Other Grapes and Wines:

  • Pecorino Abruzzo DOC (white wine from the Pecorino grape)
  • Passerina del Frusinate IGT (white wine from the Passerina grape)
  • Cococciola (white wines from the Cococciola grape)
  • Montonico (white wines from the Montonico grape)
  • Dessert and Fortified Wines:

  • Montepulciano d'Abruzzo Cerasuolo Passito (sweet dessert wine from dried Montepulciano grapes)
  • Wine Types by Grape Varieties:

    Red and Rosé Grape Varieties:

  • Montepulciano (most widely planted red grape in Abruzzo)
  • Sangiovese (used in blends and varietal wines)
  • White Grape Varieties:

  • Trebbiano Abruzzese (distinct from Trebbiano Toscano)
  • Pecorino (known for aromatic white wines)
  • Passerina (used in both still and sparkling wines)
  • Cococciola (indigenous variety used in white and sparkling wines)
  • Montonico (used for white wines and historical significance in the region)
  • Abruzzo also produces some wines from international grape varieties such as Chardonnay, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon, which may fall under the IGT classifications.

    Abruzzo has a wine production that primarily centers on two key grape varieties – Montepulciano for red and rosé wines and Trebbiano for whites. The comprehensive list of Abruzzo wines includes not only wines made from these principal grapes but also from other local and international varieties that are gaining prominence in the region. Below is a list that covers the most recognized denominations and types:

    Italian Wines
    • Italian Red Grapes
      • Sangiovese

        • The most well known of the Italian grapes and responsible for the famous Tuscan wines. Using tradional techniques, the wines are earthy, full of cherry fruit and cedar. The wines produced include such famous names as: Chianti, Rosso di Montalcino, Brunello di Montalcino, Rosso di Montepulciano, Montefalco Rosso. The "Super-Tuscans", produced for the international market, blend the Sangiovese grape with Bordeaux varietals such as: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, and often used French oak barrels to age.

      • Nebbiolo

        • Translated, the name means: "Little Fog", which refers to the autumn fog common in the region of Piedmont where it is grown. The grape seems to like these conditions but is difficult to cultivate otherwise. It is responsible for the famous wines of Barolo and Barbaresco, both produced in the Cuneo province of Piedmont. Barolo is often kept for more than 50 years, and is considered by many to be the greatest wine produced in Italy.

      • Montepulciano

        • This grape is planted in Abruzzo,and should not be confused with the town of the same name in Tuscany. It produces a wine with silky plum-like fruit, friendly acidity, and light tannin, recent bottles have improved greatly on those in the past.

      • Barbera

        • This grape is the most widely grown in Piedmont and southern Lombardy, particularly around the towns of Asti, Alba and Pavia. Previously, the Barbera wines were considered a poor alternative to Barolo, but recently they have improved dramatically. The wine has bright cherry fruit, a very dark color, and a food-friendly acidity. It is being produced increasingly for the international market.

      • Corvina

        • This is the grape that makes Valpolicella and Amarone, the best known wines of the Veneto. Valpolicella has dark cherry fruit and spice. If the grapes are dried, a process called "passito", they produce a wine called Amarone. Some are aged for more than 40 years and can command extremely high prices. Amarone di Valpolicella was awarded DOCG status in 2009.

      • Nero dAvola

        • A native varietal of Sicily, this grape was virtually unheard of a few years ago. Now, the quality of the wine is improving steadily and it is becoming increasingly popular on the international market for its plummy fruit and sweet tannins.

      • Dolcetto

        • This grape is called "Little Sweet One", because it is easy to grow and produces great wines for everyday drinking. It is grown alongside the Barbera and Nebbiola grapes in Piedmont and produces wine with flavors of concord grape, wild blackberries and herbs.

      • Negroamaro

        • Translated, the name means "Black and Bitter". It is grown extensively in the region of Puglia where it is used to produce the Salento wines: spicy, toasty, and full of dark red fruits.

      • Aglianico

        • Considered by many to be the "Noble Varietal of the south" Aglianico grapes are primarily grown in the regions of Campania and Basilicata. The name is derived from Hellenic, so the grape is considered to be a Greek transplant. Thick skinned and spicy, the wines are often both rustic and powerful.

      • Sagrantino

        • This grape is native to Umbria. It is only planted on 250 hectares, but the wines produced from it are world-renowned. Inky purple, with rustic brooding fruit and heavy tannins, these wines can age for many years.

      • Malvasia Nera

        • Red Malvasia varietal from Piedmont. A sweet and perfumed wine, sometimes elaborated in the passito style.

    Other major red varieties are Ciliegolo, Gaglioppo, Lagrein, Lambrusco, Monica, Nerello Mascalese, Pignolo, Primitivo (Zinfandel in California), Refosco, Schiava, Schiopettino, Teroldego, and Uva di Troia. "International" varietals such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Cabernet Franc are also widely grown.

    • Italian White Grapes
      • Catarratto

        • This is the most widely planted white varietal in Salaparuta, south western Sicily.

      • Trebbiano

        • This is the most widely planted white varietal in Italy. It is grown throughout the country, with a special focus on the wines from Abruzzo and from Lazio, including Frascati. Mostly, they are pale, easy drinking wines, but trebbiano from producers such as Valentini have been known to age for 15+ years. It is known as Ugni Blanc in France.

      • Moscato

        • Grown mainly in Piedmont, it is mainly used in the slightly-sparkling (frizzante), semi-sweet Moscato d"Asti. Not to be confused with moscato giallo and moscato rosa, two Germanic varietals that are grown in Trentino- Alto-Adige.

      • Nuragus

        • An ancient Phoenician varietal found in southern Sardegna. Light and tart wines that are drunk as an apertif in their homeland.

      • Pinot Grigio

        • A hugely successful commercial grape (known as Pinot Gris in France), its wines are characterized by crispness and cleanness. As a hugely mass-produced wine, it is usually delicate and mild, but in a good producers" hands, the wine can grow more full-bodied and complex. The main problem with the grape is that to satisfy the commercial demand, the grapes are harvested too early every year, leading to wines without character.

      • Tocai Friulano

        • A varietal distantly related to Sauvignon Blanc, it yields the top wine of Friuli, full of peachiness and minerality. Currently, there is a bit of controversy regarding the name, as the EC has demanded it changed to avoid confusion with the Tokay dessert wine from Hungary.

      • Ribolla Gialla

        • A Slovenian grape that now makes its home in Friuli, these wines are decidedly old-world, with aromas of pineapple and mustiness.

      • Arneis

        • A crisp and floral varietal from Piedmont, which has been grown there since the 15th century.

      • Malvasia Bianca

        • Another white varietal that peeks up in all corners of Italy with a wide variety of clones and mutations. Can range from easy quaffers to funky, musty whites.

      • Pigato

        • A heavily acidic varietal from Liguria, the wines are vinified to pair with a cuisine rich in seafood.

      • Fiano
        • Grown on the southwest coast of Italy, the wines from this grape can be described as dewy and herbal, often with notes of pinenut and pesto.
      • Garganega

        • The main grape varietal for wines labeled Soave, this is a crisp, dry white wine from the Veneto wine region of Italy. It"s a very popular wine that hails from northeast Italy around the city of Verona. Currently, there are over 3,500 distinct producers of Soave.

      • Vermentino

        • This is widely planted in northern Sardinia and also found in Tuscan and Ligurian coastal districts. Wines are particularly popular to accompany fish and seafood.

      • Verdicchio

        • This is grown in the areas of Castelli di Jesi and Matelica in the Marche region and gives its name to the varietal white wine made from it. The name comes from "verde" (green). The white wines are noted for their high acidity and a characteristic nutty flavour with a hint of honey.

    Other important whites include Carricante, Catarratto, Coda de Volpe, Cortese, Falanghina, Grechetto, Grillo, Inzolia, Picolit, Traminer, Verduzzo, and Vernaccia. As far as non-native varietals, the Italians plant Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer (sometimes called traminer aromatico), Riesling, Petite Arvine, and many others.

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