The Wines of Abruzzo: Between the Mountains and the Sea

Abruzzo, land of fisherman and shepherds. The regional economy, originally based on fishing, agriculture and pasture, has diversified, but it maintains its reputation for high-quality, natural products. Although geographically small, Abruzzo is one of the most important wine-producing regions in central and southern Italy.

The Land

Abruzzo is located in Central Italy, bordering the Adriatic Sea which runs for 130km from north to south along the coast. Though its location is in the center of the peninsula, it has a stronger cultural and historical affinity with Southern Italy. Almost two-thirds of the area is covered by the Central Apennine mountains, with important peaks like the Gran Sasso (3,000m) and the Maiella Massif. 

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The climate in Abruzzo is impacted by both the sea and the mountains, with a Mediterranean profile near the coast and cooler and more continental as we approach the Apennines. In fact, L’Aquila, the region’s capital is one of Italy’s coldest cities. 

Grape varieties

There are 3 grape varieties that account for over 80% of plantings: Montepulciano, Trebbiano Toscano and Trebbiano Abbruzzese. However, there are a few noteworthy white grapes such as Pecorino, Passerina, and Cococciola that have been growing in interest in the last few years. 

Montepulciano grapes

Montepulciano

The flagship of Abruzzo, Montepulciano is one of the best-known Italian grapes, along with Sangiovese and Lambrusco. It is a late-ripening variety that can produce wines ranging from simple and fruity to complex and age-worthy. Historically it’s been made into a soft, approachable style characterized by a deep ruby color, aromas, and flavors of red and black plums and spice, along with a full body and sweet, ripe tannins. 

It’s also widely used for the production of Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo, a delicious, full-bodied, dark-colored rose that offers a unique contrast to the standard, pale Provencal-style roses in the market. 

Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo

Trebbiano Abruzzese 

Considered the highest quality white grape, it makes some of the best whites and Italy, and arguably the world. It combines pronounced aromas of white flowers, green apple and stone fruit with crisp acidity, and rich, weighty texture on the palate. The best wines can age very well and are reminiscent of white Burgundy in their complexity and texture. 

Pecorino

Planted primarily in the area around Mount Sibillini in northern Abruzzo near the border with Marche, this up-and-coming grape does well at high altitudes. It’s a semi-aromatic variety with aromas of ripe green fruit (apple, pear), herbs (sage, thyme, mint), an earthy, saline note on the finish, and a rich, waxy texture. For many, it shares similar characteristics with Marsanne and Chardonnay.

Notable Producers

Emidio Pepe. A symbol of traditional viticulture and winemaking. All Montepulciano, Pecorino, and Trebbiano Abruzzese grapes are foot-trodden, gently pressed, and fermented with native yeasts in concrete tanks. Whites spend an additional two years on the lees, while reds spend between 24-30 months aging in the same tanks. As traditional and old school as it gets.

Tiberio  Located 23 miles inland from the seaside city of Pescara at 350 meters elevation, Riccardo Tiberio found a very old plot of 60-year-old Trebbiano Abruzzese vines, adding later new vineyards planted with Montepulciano, Pecorino and Moscato di Castiglione. Now run by his children Cristiana and Antonio, the winery is one of Italy’s rising stars.

Valentini. The late Edoardo Valentini is one of the biggest cult figures in Italy. The mythic Valentini Trebbiano d’Abruzzo is one of Italy’s greatest whites largely due to its intensity, complexity, and age worthiness.

Recent Developments

In the last few years, Abruzzo has been on a mission to largely shift the perception of its wines as approachable and good value to high-quality wines that can command premium prices.

Following the lead of outstanding producers like Pepe and Valentini, wineries are embracing organic and biodynamic farming, focusing more on terroir expression, and experimenting with new winemaking practices such as longer oak aging for Montepulciano and extended use of lees and battonage for Pecorino. In addition, there’s an overall trend towards more family estates instead of the large traditional co-ops of the past. 

The first step in this sub-regional trend is the new Colline Teramane DOCG, an area that extends from the Adriatic coast to the foothills of the Gran Sasso, along river valleys running east to west. This is arguably the most elegant expression of Montepulciano. 

In the past, it’s been difficult to have wines that range from $2 to $150 within the same regional denomination, and these sub-zone distinctions should make it easier to tell a broader quality story. 

The local Consorzio di Tutela dei Vini d’Abruzzo is doing a great job promoting the area and hosting events like the “Abruzzo Wine Experience” to showcase the land and its wines. 

Food

Two typical dishes are ‘pasta alla chitarra’ (a cutting board strung with dozens of parallel wires resembling a guitar -), and ‘Arrosticini di Pecora’, lamb skewers cooked with a typically elongated shape.

Arrosticini

If you go

Abruzzo is a short 2-hour drive from Rome. The cities of Chieti, Pescara, and Teramo are great bases to explore this beautiful region and its vineyards.

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