Many Americans refer to central Italy’s region of Abruzzo as “Abruzzi”—and for good reason. As recently as 1963, Abruzzo and the neighboring Molise were still lumped together and referred to as such.
But in the decades following the two regions’ official separation, Abruzzo worked hard to develop an individual territorial identity—something that today is most evident in the varied portfolio of the region’s wines. Unique vineyard sites and a rich patrimony of indigenous grape varieties result in exciting and distinguished expressions from the vines of this little-explored corner of Italy.
Another reason that vintners refocused their efforts on producing wines of higher quality is the devastating 6.3 magnitude earthquake that ravaged the region and damaged the capital city of L’Aquila in 2009. “The tragedy forced us vintners to make sure our wines speak of the beauty and potential of our territory,” says Marina Cvetic, who has run the Masciarelli winery since her husband, Gianni Masciarelli, passed away in 2008.
Variety Distinguishes Abruzzo
Abruzzo, unlike most other Italian wine regions, focuses heavily on producing a variety of dry wines, from whites to rosés and reds—all of which pair exceptionally well with the region’s cuisine. Trebbiano d’Abruzzo, a leading white wine, is a consumer favorite that complements seafood or vegetable dishes. The native grape, Pecorino, is one of Italy’s hottest indigenous varieties that produces a richer, creamier and more saturated white that stands up to meat and poultry.
Abruzzo is also one of the few Italian regions that can claim a long and storied affinity for the production of rosé wines. In fact, years ago, farmers and peasants who made wine for domestic consumption from garden vineyards were really making some variation of rosé. Today, these wines are identified by the Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Cerasuolo denomination.
Most of Abruzzo’s red wines are made with the workhorse Montepulciano grape, which delivers inky consistency, intense aromas and soft tannins. These reds are a perfect pairing partner to lamb, grilled steak or barbecued meats.
But the fact that the region’s wines make for such complementary pairings isn’t the only draw. Its biggest appeal is the value it offers consumers. Of the 74 sample wines submitted to Wine Enthusiast Magazine’s Buying Guide in 2011, 16 received a “Best Buy” distinction for scoring well while being priced under $15—a higher proportion than any other Italian region this year—while 14 scored 90 points or higher, which reflects improved winery and vineyard techniques as well as an overall push for quality.
94 Masciarelli 2005 Villa Gemma (Montepulciano d’Abruzzo). Villa Gemma, a flagship wine for Abruzzo, underlines the quality-minded winemaking philosophy that makes this Italian region so exciting and full of surprises. The wine is dark and superconcentrated, with amazing intensity and generous layers of ripe berry fruit, spice, tobacco, worn leather and polished river stone. It’s smooth, firm, dense and will age for many years to come. Imported by Masciarelli Wine Co. Cellar Selection.
abv: 14.5% Price: $100
92 Illuminati Dino 2007 Lumen Riserva (Controguerra). This high-end blend of Montepulciano (70%) and Cabernet Sauvignon shows the best of winemaking in Abruzzo. It’s a poised and confident wine, with defined aromas of ripe blackberry, leather and polished mineral. The tannins are plush and velvety and the wine finishes long. Imported by Tricana Imports.
abv: 14.5% Price: $70
90 Talamonti 2008 Tre Saggi (Montepulciano d’Abruzzo). Tre Saggi, or three wise men, is a terrific wine at a realistic price. This luscious vintage shows bright fruit nuances of black cherry and currant backed by soft, oak-inspired aromas of spice, leather and tobacco. Imported by Panebianco. Editors’ Choice.
abv: 13.5% Price: $20
89 Ciavolich Giuseppe 2009 Pecorino (Colline Pescaresi). Giuseppe Ciavolich presents a wonderful expression of Pecorino, with a dark golden color and intense aromas of apricot and ripe melon. It has a soft, creamy quality, and touches of caramel and butterscotch. Imported by Clyde Thomas.
abv: 14% Price: $26
88 Cantina Tollo 2010 Hedòs Rosé (Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo). Cerasuolo d'Abruzzo (made with Montepulciano grapes) is arguably one of the best rosé wines to come from Italy. In fact, this region was one of the first to propose a rosé and this expression is redolent of pink rose, forest berry and fragrant passion fruit. Imported by Zig Zagando. Editors’ Choice.
abv: 13.5% Price: $19
87 Cantina Tollo 2008 Kult (Terre di Chieti). A blend of Montepulciano (70%), Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon, this Abruzzo red is partly aged in American oak, which adds a spicy patina of clove and cinnamon to a luscious, fruit-filled core. The wine finishes with dark flavors of prune, plum and blackberry. Imported by Zig Zagando. Best Buy.
abv: 13.5% Price: $12
86 Valle Reale 2009 Vigneto Vigne Nuove (Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Cerasuolo). A bright, saturated rosé with a pink raspberry color and bright berry aromas, this Cerasuolo from central Italy pairs well with shellfish or white meat. The wine finishes with a crisp, easy close. Imported by Winebow.
abv: 12.5% Price: $NA
85 Farnese 2010 Trebbiano d’Abruzzo. This light Trebbiano from central Italy opens with aromas of citrus, peach, honey and yellow flowers. This simple, fresh wine would make a great choice at lunch or for cocktails. Imported by Empson (USA) Ltd. Best Buy.
abv: 12% Price: $9