Three years ago, Consorzio Tutela Vini D’Abruzzo invited me to attend an educational seminar in New York City to learn about the Abruzzo wine region of Italy. Not only was I introduced to some stunning wines indigenous to this region, but I also had the opportunity to meet with several new-generation wine producers. This new generation echoed a recurring theme that day on the importance of “balancing tradition while introducing new innovations.”
The Consorzio Tutela Vini D’Abruzzo was established in 2002 to monitor, defend, protect, and safeguard the controlled designations of origin and maintain the quality of production. Its 400 members are grape growers, winemakers, and bottlers.
A few weeks ago, Consorzio Tutela Vini D’Abruzzo invited me to experience the wonders of Abruzzo firsthand. And although I learned so much during the seminar in NYC, nothing can compare to the magic of physically standing at the edge of the Adriatic Sea with the breathtaking backdrop of the Apennine Mountains, walking through vineyards, partaking in the local cuisine and culture, and touring historic villages with imposing abbeys and castles.
On this trip, the ever-present mantra of the new generation of winemakers I met continued, “balancing tradition while introducing new innovations.” Their enthusiasm, along with love and respect for the land, and determination to produce high-quality wines are commanding, and it shows in the wines that I sampled. A movement toward experimenting in the vineyards to find ways to combat climate change, along with a growth in certified organic farming, sustainability, and infusing new technology with traditional methods, is the new norm here. And the older generations are embracing these new paths forged to showcase the terroir and produce unique and more complex wines.
For those who may have missed my original article from a few years ago, here is an introduction to Abruzzo.
Abruzzo is situated in central Italy between the Adriatic Sea and Gran Sasso d’Italia (one of the highest peaks in Italy, standing at 9,554 ft.) and Majella Massif, both part of the Apennine Mountains. For centuries, the inhabitants of Abruzzo have referred to the Majella Massif as a sacred mountain. Abruzzo winemaking dates back to the fourth century BC when the Etruscans introduced viniculture to the area. However, winemaking took a dip in production for several centuries, and it is only in the last 50 years that it has been on an upswing. Bulk wine once dominated the scene, but with a recent turnover of the newer generations, Abruzzo is producing more quality-driven wines.
The Abruzzo wine region is divided into four provinces with sub-zones.
Overall, there are approximately 6,000 grape producers, 35 wine cooperatives, and over 250 wineries, with the majority of wine production taking place in Chieti province, where more than 83% of Abruzzo wine growing is located.
Two geographical areas make up Abruzzo, the inland mountainous area that covers 65% of the entire region and the long coastal area with sweeping hills.
Climate and geography play an important role in wine’s outcome, and the stage is set for the terroir of Abruzzo. A moderate coastal climate exists in the area along the Adriatic-facing side of the Apennines and is more continental inland. The vineyards benefit from the high altitude that provides significant diurnal temperature variations and good ventilation that cools the vineyards, while the Adriatic contributes a coastal breeze. Primary soils are clay-rich interspersed with limestone and sandy with marine deposits found along the coastline. Calcareous soils, marls, and rock are inland.
There are an impressive 36,000 hectares of vineyards in the Abruzzo region, with the majority of vineyards planted on hills. Abruzzo produces approximately 3.5 million hectoliters of wine each year! And more than one million of these wines are Controlled Designation of Origin. (DOC) of which approximately 80% are Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. In fact, 58% of all vineyards are planted to Montepulciano, with 17,000 hectares under vine. As of 2019 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Colline Teramane is the only D.O.C.G made in Abruzzo with a minimum of 90% Montepulciano.
Notable indigenous varieties and wines are below with a “generalized” description.
This is Abruzzo’s star red grape. The wines tend to be rich, complex, and medium-bodied, with typical flavors of red fruit, plum, dark berries, and herbs. It is a versatile grape that can be produced as a simple, fresh un-oaked wine or aged in casks for a more dense and complex wine.
A deep cherry-colored wine considered the rosé of Abruzzo. Made with Montepulciano grapes, the color is obtained from a short maceration of 24 hours or less. The wine leans toward intense red fruit flavors with racy acidity and palate-pleasing freshness.
This is Abruzzo’s star white grape. Trebbiano tends to be light and fresh with tropical fruit, citrus flavors, lively acidity, and a trace of almond on the finish.
Not to be confused with cheese, this grape produces a dry, fresh wine with tropical or citrus fruit, minerality, bracing acidity, herbal notes, and a beautiful floral bouquet.
These grapes were traditionally used for blending but are now produced on their own as well. The wines tend to have floral and citrus aromas, with the palate offering fruit-forward and herbal notes. It is dry, fresh, and has vibrant acidity.
This is another fresh and vibrant wine with distinct notes of apricot, white stone fruit, herbs, and floral.
In addition to still wines, many wineries are producing sparkling wines from the above grapes, which tend to be vibrant, fresh, and aromatic.
What I love about these wines is their versatility when paired with all types of food. Our first night in the province of Chieti in Abruzzo we dined on local cuisine at Trabocca Punta Cavalluccia.
Up and down the southern coastline, especially in Chieti, there are pilings called trabocci. These fishing platforms extend out to the sea and were first designed in the 18th century to allow fishermen to harpoon and catch fish with nets without needing to use a boat. A long gangplank leads to a covered structure firmly anchored into the sea bed with stilts. It may look fragile, but it isn’t! Today, a few of these trabocci have been restored, renovated, and turned into fabulous restaurants, and Trabocca Punta Cavalluccia is among the well-known. It is open dining out on the Adriatic Sea!
We enjoyed a six-course meal, savoring the local bounty from the sea while treating our palates to Abruzzo wines. Below are just a few examples of our dinner.
The variety of local food is as varied as the landscape of Abruzzo. As we drove away from the sea toward the mountains, we were treated to different styles of food. And the wines were palate-pleasing every step of the way.
This is the first of several articles on Abruzzo. In future articles, we will visit a few wineries and quaint villages and delve into the hidden gem of Villamagna, DOC.
I encourage you to try Abruzzo wines and sip with me as we explore Abruzzo together! Your palate will thank me!
Until next time…
Feature photo credit: Penny Weiss