Abruzzo: between the mountains and the sea

Between the mountains and the sea is Abruzzo, known as Italy’s Greenest Region in Europe. Only two hours from Rome, Abruzzo is a less discovered region that others in Italy. But with gorgeous scenery and delicious wines, Abruzzo needs to be discovered. I had the privilege to travel to Abruzzo for my first time and wrote about it in the Napa Valley Register and share it here.

Abruzzo: between the mountains and the sea

Drive two hours east of Rome and you will discover what might be Italy’s best kept secret: Abruzzo, a land of mountains, beaches, national parks and delicious wines.

Abruzzo is in central Italy, east of Lazio, the region where Rome is located. Lazio and Abruzzo are separated by the Abruzzean Apennines. In Abruzzo, the Apennine mountains, which include Gran Sasso, one of Italy’s highest peaks, and the Maiella Massif line the western border, and the Adriatic Sea lines the eastern border. Abruzzo can be divided into two sections, the inland mountainous area and the coastal area.

Most of the wine production is concentrated in the hills of Abruzzo, divided into four provinces, Chieti, Pescara, Teramo and L’Aquila. More than 80% of the grapes planted are in Chieti, followed by 10% in Pescara, 6% in Teramo, and less than one percent in L’Acquila.

Surprisingly, Abruzzo is the fifth largest producer of wine in Italy, following Veneto, Puglia, Emilia Romagna and Sicilia. Eighty percent of the production is of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, which is used for the one DOCG red wine, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Colline Teramane; the red DOC wine Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and the rosé DOC wine Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo.

The other dominant indigenous grape is Trebbiano d’Abruzzo (not related to other Trebbiano grapes in Italy), as well as Pecorino, Passerina and Cococciolo.

Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is a late-ripening, thick-skinned grape that produces full-bodied, robust, elegant and aromatic wines. It is a versatile grape that can produce a variety of styles of red wines, from juicy and fruity to tannic and age worthy, as well as the light red Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo.

Abruzzo: between the mountains and the sea

Trebbiano d’Abruzzo is a high-yielding, late-ripening grape with delicate aromas and lower acid.

Pecorino is an early-ripening, low-yielding grape that produces high-acid wines with floral, earthy, and mineral notes.

One interesting thing to note is that more than 80% of the vineyards in Abruzzo use the tendone training system. Like the pergola system, tendone is an overhead training system, but whereas the pergola system inclines and forms a tent, the tendone creates a flat, horizontal tent. I noticed this flat top as I stood under the vines at Feudo Antico in Chieto on our first visit in Abruzzo.

Abruzzo: between the mountains and the sea

Feudo Antico is part of the Cantina Tollo cooperative that was established in 1960. Feudo Antico was created in 2009 to focus on indigenous grapes of Abruzzo. When Feudo Antico started to plant Pecorino in 2013, they found Roman ruins underground that can be visited today.

Based in Chieti, Feudo Antico is in the Tollo municipality, which is home to Tullum DOCG, established in 2019 and is one of the smallest DOCGs in Italy.

Abruzzo: between the mountains and the sea

Winemaker Ricardo is a fan of the tendone system as he has discovered that with climate change, the system offers a greater surface for the canopy, which produces better quality wines.

At Feudo Antico, it was the white wines that stood out. The 2021 Trebbiano d’Abruzzo DOP had a fresh nose of flowers and citrus and vibrant acidity that tingled on the tongue.

The 2020 Pecorino Tullum DOCG had lemon and stone fruit aromas, palate-coating acidity and a bitter finish. The Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo DOP Organic had cherry and citrus aromas and was textured with a bitter finish.

Abruzzo: between the mountains and the sea

Our next stop in Chieti was at Tenuta I Fauri. This third-generation family-owned winery is run by siblings Luigi and Valentina di Camillo. Sitting with soft-spoken Luigi, we tasted Pecorino two ways.

First, we had the 2015 Pecorino Brut made in the Charmat method and then we had the 2020 Pecorino that was fermented in stainless steel and finished in concrete. The sparkling Pecorino was fresh with notes of peach, apricot, and pineapple, and the still Pecorino had apple, citrus, and honey notes.

What was very interesting was to taste a 2013 Pecorino and see how beautifully Pecorino ages. With almost 10 years age on it, the wine had aromas of petrol, dried fruit, dried herbs and honeycomb.

Abruzzo: between the mountains and the sea

Our last stop in Chieto was at Masciarelli. Abruzzo had been known for quantity, not quality, until Gianni Masciarelli set a new standard in the early 1980s. His wife, Marina Cvetic, and their oldest daughter, Miriam, run the winery today.

I sat with Miriam at dinner the Castello di Semivicoli, a 17th century baronial palace that has been converted to a hotel and restaurant.

What was special in this tasting was three vintages of the Masciarelli Villa Gemma Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. Villa Gemma is a 40-year-old, 12-hectare, high-density vineyard that is used for the winery’s flagship line.

Abruzzo: between the mountains and the sea

We tasted the 1999, 2000, and 2007 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo wines, which demonstrated the grape’s capacity for aging. Each wine was powerful and full-bodied but the I really enjoyed the 1999 with rhubarb and herbal notes and good acidity.

After spending a day in Chieto, we spent another day visiting two wineries in the hills of Pescara.

Abruzzo: between the mountains and the sea

Our first stop was at Castorani. The estate dates to 1793. was part of the dowry of Lady Adelina Ruggeri De’ Capobianchi when she married Raffaele Castorani, the man who invented the first cataract eye surgery. In 1999, Formula One racer Jarno Trulli bought the property.

The property, which includes 100 hectares of organically farmed vines, is surrounded by mountains and a breeze that flows through the plateau. The winery was built underground so to not disrupt the breathtaking scenery.

Abruzzo: between the mountains and the sea

Here we enjoyed a tasting of the wines, and I was captivated by the 2021 Amorino Trebbiano d’Abruzzo DOC Riserva from a 20-year-old single vineyard. After undergoing a long fermentation in concrete, the wine has beautiful minerality, aromas of citrus, stone fruit and white flowers and soft palate-coating acidity. In comparison, the 2021 Amorino Pecorino had white flower aromas but crisper acidity.

I also enjoyed the Amorino 2016 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo that is aged in concrete and barrels. The wine is elegant with notes of blueberry, blackberry, wild raspberry, and spice, sandpaper-like tannins and a juicy finish.

Abruzzo: between the mountains and the sea

Our day ended at the family-owned Pasetti winery located inside the Parco Nazionale del Gran Sasso e Monti della Laga. Owners Domenico and Rosa Pasetti and their son Massimo, who handles exports, hosted us for a homecooked meal as we tasted their wines.

The Pasetti family had vineyards on the coast but relocated to the hills. With a total of 80 planted hectares, theirs is the only winery allowed to use the national park on their label.

Domenico was the first person to bottle Pecorino as a single bottling in Abruzzo. The Pasetti 2020 Collecivetta Pecorino DOP is a selection of the best Pecorino grapes that spend six months on the fine lees in stainless steel tanks. The wine has aromas of pineapple, melon, yellow flowers and has great structure and minerality on the palate.

We also enjoyed two Montepulciano d’Abruzzo wines, the 2018 Testarossa, which is fermented in stainless steel and aged in concrete and big barrels, and the 2012 Harimann Casauria Riserva, a single vineyard wine that spends five years in barrels.

To compare the powerful boldness of the Testarossa with the structured and textured Harimann with its dark fresh fruit aromas and minerality exemplified how diverse Montepulciano d’Abruzzo can be.

Abruzzo: between the mountains and the sea

I have only touched the surface of Abruzzo and its indigenous wines. There is so much to discover in Italy’s best kept secret, I cannot wait to return to explore more.

Read the original story in the Napa Valley Register.