'vendemmia' time!

Welcome back, epicurean oenophile friends! This week’s featured southern Italian wine region is the proud and stunning region of Abruzzo. Sure to surprise and delight, grab your tasting glasses and let’s get familiar with the area.

The Abruzzesi are proud and independent. They resemble the people of Italy’s southern regions in attitude and aptitude, as well as their passion and their strength in the face of misfortune and poverty. Likewise the food and wines of Abruzzo reflect that strength and lack of affluence centered on a hard working community. The stunning hillsides of this region happen to be excellent for viticulture. Vineyards can be found virtually from the coastline right up towards the mountains, where tradition dates the local vines to pre-Roman times.

Abruzzo produces just one DOCG and three DOC origin designation wines that—despite carrying brand names—used to be little known abroad and misjudged as cheap, generic, supermarket varieties. This is changing, however, and like much of southern Italy Abruzzo is undergoing a gradual transition from bulk-wine production to bottled, boutique wines. In other words, a switch from a strictly industrial wine culture to one in which the production is limited and duly cared for – an oenological approach that will favor commercial success and prosperity. Winegrowers are already seeing the effects of this transformation, it has becoming increasingly chic for restaurants in the United States and beyond to carry wines from Abruzzo.

Though the situation is changing, there’s still a tendency by wine critics—including Italian ones—to look down on the wines produced in the Mezzogiorno (southern Italy). What is missing in this blanket evaluation of Abruzzesi wines is the fact that many better regarded French and noble northern Italian wines contain, in various measures, wine from Abruzzo!

The four origin-designated wines produced in Abruzzo are Controguerra, Trebbiano d’Abruzzo, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Colline Teramane. The last two should not be confused with the Tuscan Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. While the Tuscan takes its name from the town where it is made in the province of Siena, the Abruzzo wine is made with an ancient grape actually named Montepulciano. Let’s take a closer look at these.

The stunning hillsides of Abruzzo happen to be excellent for viticulture. Vineyards can be found virtually from the coastline right up towards the mountains, where tradition dates the local vines to pre-Roman times.

In parts of Abruzzo, most notably in the low hills of the northern province of Teramo, Montepulciano grapes become a red wine of irresistible character – full-bodied, robust, with a good capacity to age. The grape responsible for Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC wine originated in the Peligna valley and has been cultivated locally for more than two hundred years.

Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is characterized by its intense ruby and violet hues and a concentrated perfume. It marries well with red meats, wild game and mature cheeses – conveniently the specialties of this enchanting region. After a limited fermentation, Moltepulciano d’Abruzzo grapes produce a more transparent cherry red wine called Cerasuolo, delicately fruity, fine and intense with a dry, harmonious palate. It is best paired to pasta dishes, white meat and fish entrees, including baccalà (dried, salted Cod).

Controguerra DOC is only produced in five communities in the Vibrata valley in the province of Teramo. Controguerra wine has an intense dark red color and a dry, lightly tannic taste. The white Controguerra DOC is pale yellow, with a fruity bouquet and smooth dry taste ideally suited to accompany seafood.

Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Colline Teramane—locally produced since 1995—obtained the DOCG (Guaranteed Origin Controlled Denomination) certification during the 2003 vintage. DOCG stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita and is given to wines made with certain restrictions, including lower allowable yields. The wines usually have to pass a tasting panel as well, meaning that only the “best of the best” of Italian wines can receive DOCG certification. With an intense ruby color with violet reflections, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Colline Teramane has a characteristic aroma and a velvety, full-bodied taste. If matured for more than three years it can be called Riserva (reserve). Other interesting wines made with Montepulciano include a white spumante, a white and a tawny passito.

Another regional star is Trebbiano d’Abruzzo DOC. Most Trebbiano is based on the prolific Tuscan Bombino Bianco grape variety, which makes light, rather acidic white wines of subtle aroma and flavor. Locally the grape is called Trebbiano d’Abruzzo, and the wine made from it has a pale yellow color, lightly perfumed bouquet with a velvety, dry taste. Many central Italian producers suggest that it should be matured in small durmast barrique (oak barrels) to better enhance the aroma and taste of the finished wine. Trebbiano d’Abruzzo pairs well with seafood preparations, fresh homemade pasta alla chitarra, risotto with shaved truffles, poultry and white meats.

A few more notable indigenous Abruzzesi vines include: Cococciola is a native vine of Abruzzo that is cultivated mainly in the province of Chieti near Vacri, Ari and Rocca San Giovanni. Cococciola is known for its high acidity and up-front grassiness. Very fresh and vivid, this unusual white wine is delightful with simply prepared seafood dishes.

Pecorino is a vigorous vine present for generations in the central regions of Italy, particularly in Abruzzo. The wine it produces is pale and clear yellow. The bouquet of this interesting white is equally herbal and floral, with a distinctive note of orange blossom. Soft and fresh on the palate, it’s wonderful with or without food.

This is not all, though. Other grapes of note grown in Abruzzo are: Passerina, Coccilina and Sangiovese. It seems like almost too many to try, but for travelers lucky enough to visit the region during the right times of year will find themselves treated to a region-wine open house of almost all of the major wineries in Abruzzo. With typical abruzzese hospitality, visitors can sample local wines and observe the winemaking process in its most authentic form.

As you can see, Abruzzo is a generous place. Thank you for traveling with me through its copious and fruitful vine lands. Stay tuned for next week’s appointment, which will bring us to our last installment of the wines of southern Italy, and that is the region of Lazio, at the very heart of the boot-shaped peninsula, where common knowledge and folklore songs maintain that everywhere “fountains spill wine.”

Salute!

Would you like to travel them mountains of the Abruzzo as your ancestors once did – and even have the chance to find your abruzzesi relatives still living there as well? Contact us today and find out how italyMONDO! can help you research your Italian (and Abruzzese!) family tree or create a vacation of a lifetime with a custom Heritage Tour for you and your family!

Photo Courtesy of “_pop-eye” at Flickr