Abruzzo is a region I’ve explored virtually. A few years ago, I did an article that included a Cerasuolo d’Abuzzo. I attended a session on Pecorino d’Abruzzo, in Eugene, one on Trebbiano d’Abruzzo in Italy last year, and then most recently, the IEEM Montepulciano d’Abruzzo tasting here in Las Vegas at the Four Seasons.
The room for the recent tasting was full to overflowing, with guests who had not confirmed their attendance arriving. A bit of time was taken to accommodate everyone, and we were on to our session.
Davide Acerra from Abruzzo took us through a slide presentation, though he really just hit the key points and expanded on them, easily describing the region and creating visuals that made the region irresistible. It’s no wonder that Wine Enthusiast named Abruzzo the 2023 Wine Region of the Year.
This tasting was part of “The Charming Taste of Europe” Campaign, co-funded by the European Union to promote Italian wines, kiwis, and cherries from Greece and the Sweet Wines of Bordeaux in the US and Canada.
My attendance at the tasting and the lunch that followed were complimentary, but all opinions expressed here are my own.
Abruzzo is located on the Eastern Coast of Italy, about midway down the boot. To the North is Marche, and to the south Molise, and just 100 km away directly west on the other side of the Apennines, you will find Rome.
65% of the region is mountainous, sitting on the east side of the Apennines and rolling down to the Adriatic Sea. The distance between the two is never more than 40 minutes in a car.
A full 30% of the region is protected by parks, three of which are National Parks. There are mountain lakes, medieval towns, and the trabocchi fishing huts on the coast, many of which now are restaurants.
The mountainous part of the region is beautiful and has the “transumanza,” a route by which the Abruzzo shepherds take their sheep into the hills in the spring. They reverse this route in the fall as the weather cools.
Vineyard Regions in Abruzzo
There are 4 main regions for vineyards:
L’Aquila – which takes in the mountainous western half of the area. The inland basins here have a continental climate
Teramo – the northern coastal region
Chieti – the southern coastal region
Pescara – tucked in between Teramo and Chieti
These last three regions face the Adriatic and have a more mild climate.
Wine has been made in this region since ancient times, but in the last 50 years, the methods of viticulture and the quality of the wines have increased.
Vineyards cover 34,000 hectares here in Abruzzo, and over 80% of those vineyards are of Montepulciano.
The vineyards are concentrated in the hills, with Chieti being the largest production area.
There are 250 wineries in Abruzzo, but over 10,000 growers, many of whom own and tend just 1 hectare of vines. In the 1950s and 60s, cooperatives were created to help growers survive. Today 75% of the wine produced in Abruzzo is made by the 35 coops in the region. These coops range from smaller than 100 growers to over 1000.
In the past, every village had a coop. Now, the large coops might represent 50 or more villages.
Throughout the region, the Abuzzo Pergola is used in over 80% of the vineyards, but as new vineyards are put in, the trend is to plant to cordon and spur trained vines.
DOCs and DOCGs in Abruzzo
There are 12 DOCs and 2 DOCGs in Abruzzo
- Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo
- Montepulciano d’Abruzzo
- Sottozona Alto Tirino
- Sottozona Casauria Terre Di Casauria
- Sottozona Teate
- Sottozona Terre dei Peligni
- Sottozona Tera dei Vestini
- Trebbiano d’Abruzzo
- Montepulciano d’Abruzzo “Colline Teramane”
- Terre Tollesi o Tullum
As to grape varieties? There are 8 primary varieties in the region and all but 1 are white grapes. You have Terbbiano Abruzzese, Peccorino, Passerina, Cococciola, Montonico, Malvasia and Moscatello. Then there is Montepulciano.
First, let’s make sure there is no confusion here. This is the grape variety Montepulciano. You may have also heard of Vino Nobile de Montepulciano, which is actually made primarily from Sangiovese in the Montepulciano village of Tuscany.
Montepulciano is the 3rd most planted grape in Italy, sitting just behind Sangiovese and Trebbiano. While it is also found in Marche, Molise, and Puglia, it is most widely planted here in Abruzzo.
The Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC was founded in 1968. The regulations require that the vines not be planted above 500 meters, but there is an exception that allows them to be planted to 600 meters if they are exposed to the noon sun.
Rich in anthocyanins, Montepulciano produces deeply colored wines from its thick skins. These are wines that need time to open up. Decanting or pouring an hour before tasting is recommended.
On to the wines we tasted.
Led by Master Sommelier Brandon Tebbe, we tasted 7 wines, each with its unique expression of the region. These were all 100% Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, and all were DOC-level wines.
Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC 2021
The first wine was a Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC 2021 from Jasci & Marchesani.
From vineyards in Vasto/Monteodorisio in Chieti. This is an easy youthful wine that stays on its skins to mellow the grape tannins.
This small family vineyard has been practicing organic farming since the 1960s though they were not certified until 1978. They are located in southeast Chieti, very close to the coast.
This wine is youthful and easy, plush from its maritime climate. With a slight carbonic note, it is perfect to serve slightly chilled in the summer.
$13.5% abv – SRP $20
Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC Santo Stefano 2021
Cantina Mucci has 5 generations of history in wine. Luigi Mucci obtained his diploma as a Technical Oenologist in 1895. It was not until 1982, though, that Valentino Mucci started the family wine business.
Today they produce around 250,000 bottles per year from their 20 hectares in the Torino di Sangro Hills on the Chieti regions Trabocchi Coast. Their vineyards are a little further inland than those of Jasci & Marchesani.
This wine is aged 6 months in 100% new American Oak that has been air-dried for 3-4 years. Elegant and well-balanced, this wine has notes of blackberries and chocolate.
13.5% abv – SRP $20
Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC Vigne Lomanegra 2019
Rosarubra is a biodynamic winery in Pietranico in the province of Pescara. Their 30 hectares are filled with biodiversity with bees, insects, wildlife, and a variety of plants.
Pietranico is a small town with around 600 inhabitants, located on a hill on the east side of the Rota river. An ancient castle gives the town its name.
The Vigne Lomanegra line of wines are what they deem to be the best biodynamic expression of their wines. They are as the land, the weather, and the vintage intended them to be.
This wine ages 24 months in barriques and has notes of red fruit, sweet vanilla, and a bit of rose petal. This was one of my favorites.
14.5% abv – SRP $39
Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC Riserva Tenutarossa 2019
Pasetti is located in Pescosansonesco (yes, that’s a mouthful!), not far from Pietranico
This Vineyard sits at 1650 feet. (550 meters) in the Grans Sasso and Monti della Laga National Park, on a north-east-facing slope. This altitude allows for diurnal shifts (day-to-night temperatures) that elevate the structure of the wine and allow it to keep its high acidity.
This family business produces 10,000 bottles annually and is the only winery allowed to use the National Park logo on its bottles.
This Riserva spends 2 years in French oak barriques and 12 months in bottle before release.
This wine has high acid and tannins, with notes of ripe and dried fruits, anise, cocoa, tobacco, and a dried floral note.
15% abv – SRP $15-22
Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC Riserva Tre Saggi 2018
Located in Loreto Aprutino in the Pescara province, Tenuta Talamonti was founded in 2001. The Redmont -Di Tonno family came to this unspoiled area in Abruzzo. They are at the foot of the Grans Sasso, halfway between the mountains and the sea.
They vinify all their parcels separately to preserve what they call “treasures” from the vineyard.
The Tre Saggi is their Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Riserva. Grown in Limestone clay soil at 300 meter above sea level, these vines were planted between 1995 and 2002.
This Riserva wine had cool minty spices, tooth coating tannins and is big, ageable, and structured. There are notes of coffee and blackcurrant.
14% abv – SRP $24
Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC Riserva Pateo 2018
We head south again and closer to the coast to Caldari. Agriverde has been organic since 1988. The vineyards sit at 750 feet with south-southeast exposure.
This wine was full-bodied with red fruit, spices, cocoa, and coffee.
14.5 abv – SRP $30
Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC Riserva Costa dei Trabocchi Vallevo 2017
This wine comes from Cantina Frentana, a large coop in the region who have been around 65 years. Built in the early 1960s, the gravity flow winery looked a bit like an aircraft control tower. Restored in 2014, the Torre Vinaria is now a symbol of the Cantina.
The Wine is named for the fishing shacks (Trabocchi). They make just 5000 bottles of this wine, which is trained on Pergolas. These grapes are grown in Rocca San Giovanni in Chieti.
This is “plushable” to coin the word that Brandon mashed together without thinking as he sipped this wine. “Plushable” certainly works. This is black cherry and chocolate.
13.5% abv – SRP $17-$20
This is a stunning region from the photos I have seen, I hope to have an opportunity to travel there in the not-so-distant future and share with you my in-person discoveries.
Robin Renken is a wine writer and Certified Specialist of Wine and WSET 3 Certified. She and her husband Michael travel to wine regions interviewing vineyard owners and winemakers and learning the stories behind the glass.
When not traveling they indulge in cooking and pairing wines with food at home in Las Vegas.
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