Italian Wine Regions: Abruzzo

477px-Abruzzo_in_ItalyAbruzzo [say it: ah-BRUT-zo], on the east coast of central Italy, is a region full of color:  the deep blue of the Adriatic sea, the grey of the mountains and castles from centuries past, greens of the national parks, and the fuschia, white, and golds of the oleanders and ginestre trees scattered across the landscape.  Its winemaking history stretches at least as far back as the Etruscans in the 6th century BC, though the amount of production has varied over time as populations grew and declined – not uncommon for the Italian peninsula.

abruzzo_posterThe majority of the grapes grown and wines produced were quite different in antiquity compared to today with one major exception: Montepulciano.  Today Montepulciano (unrelated to the Tuscan city and wine Rosso di Montepulciano or Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, both made from Sangiovese) along with Trebbiano  make up nearly 90% of the region’s wines.  But the dominance of these two grapes only happened relatively recently.  Written records from the 18th century describe grape varieties as being complex and varied, including the likes of Lacrima, Zibibbo (=Muscat of Alexandria), and Moscatello (=muscat or moscato).  The European phylloxera (=vine-destroying louse) epidemic of the late 19th century is likely to blame for the reduction of grape varieties used in the region today.

Abruzzo makes about 40 million cases of wine per year, thanks to ideal terroir, viticultural practices, and the high annual yields they are permitted to produce.  Most (~80%) of wines are produced by co-op wineries – a strategy that helped and continues to help make winemaking a financially viable option despite post world war economic struggles.  The principal wines are Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Trebbiano d’Abruzzo (troubling enough NOT always made from Trebbiano), and Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo (a full-bodied dry rose’).  Small plantings and wine production of the nearly forgotten varieties like Moscatello, Pecorino, and Passerina are also starting to pop up – though they are still in the minority of Abruzzese wines.

"Gran sasso italia". Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons -

“Gran sasso italia”. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons – wikimedia

Geography: Abruzzo’s landscape features an ample amount of coast (~133km/~83miles) with its bays, coves and cliffs.  The region finds itself snugly between the Adriatic sea and the jagged Apennines mountains – among them is the famous Gran Sasso, the highest peak of the mountain range at 2,912 meters/9,553 feet above sea level. Besides the Gran Sasso there are other noteworthy mountains like La Maiella (~2,795 meters/9,169 feet above sea level) and Gorzano (~2,455 meters/8,054 feet above sea level). There are four major rivers that cut across the region: the Vomano, the Pescara, the Atemo, and the Sangro. There are also many rich national parks, including the large Parco Nazionale d’Abruzzo which covers about 50,000 hectares (~123,000 acres) of land.  The best areas of red wine production are said to be the territory called Colline Teramane – near the northern city of Teramo.

abruzzoTerroir: Abruzzo provides its vines with an abundance of sunshine during the growing season and plenty of rain annually to support plant life – especially important since most DOC/DOCG appellations are expressly forbidden from irrigating grapevines.  Soils vary between ferrous clay, calcareous clay, and limestone – with the best sites being less fertile, a typical and desirable characteristic in vineyard sites around the world.  Inland has a more continental climate (with hot summers and very cold winters) while closer to the coast a maritime climate means less severe seasonal temperature ranges, warming breezes from the Adriatic (providing both heat as well as ventilation to protect grapes against fungal diseases).  High altitude plantings take advantage of the cooling effects of both mountain winds and the altitude itself, helping to create an ideal mesoclimate that’s not too hot, cool, or wet for the vines.  Vines are often trained in the pergola fashion

638px-Map_of_region_of_Abruzzo,_Italy,_with_provinces-it.svgMain Provinces and their Wines/Regions:
*Note that some DOC/Gs are permitted to be made in multiple provinces

  • Teramo: Trebbiano d’Abruzzo, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Controguerra, Colonnella
  • L’Aquila: Trebbiano d’Abruzzo, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo
  • Chieti: Villamagna, Trebbiano d’Abruzzo, Terre Tollesi, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Ortona, Lanciano, Ripa Teatina
  • Pescara: Trebbiano d’Abruzzo, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Collecorvino, Rosciano, Bolognano

Permitted & Key Regional Grape Friends:

  • Trebbiano Toscano (white)
  • Trebbiano Abruzzese -aka Bombino Bianco (wh)
  • Regina (wh)
  • Chardonnay (wh) – of French origins but found in Italy as well, often the base for sparkling wines
  • Cococciola (wh)
  • Manzoni Bianco (wh)
  • Malvasia Bianca di Candia (wh) – commonly found in Lazio white wines
  • Regina dei Vigneti (wh) – literally means “Queen of vineyards”
  • Grechetto (wh)
  • Malvasia Bianca Lunga (wh)
  • Barbera Bianca (wh)
  • Biancame (wh)
  • Falangina (wh)
  • Garganega (wh) – famously part of the Soave wines of Veneto
  • Greco (wh)
  • Malvasia del Lazio (wh)
  • Montonico Bianco (wh)
  • Moscato Bianco (wh)
  • Mostosa (wh)
  • Passerina (wh) – commonly found in nearby Marche as well
  • Pecorino (wh) – grape that makes up popular Pecorino wines
  • Pinot Bianco (wh) – aka Pinot Blanc, more typically found in northern regions like Alto Adige or Lombardia
  • Riesling/Riesling Renano (wh) – noble German grape
  • Riesling Italico (wh) – aka Welschriesling, confusingly not related to the Riesling mentioned above
  • Sauvignon (wh) – aka Sauvignon Blanc
  • Sylvaner Verde (wh)
  • Tocai Friulano (wh) – usually simply “Friulano” without the troubling “Tocai”
  • Veltliner (wh)
  • Verdicchio Bianco (wh)
  • Vermentino (wh) – more known for being featured in Sardinian wines
  • Pinot Grigio (grey) – aka Pinot Gris, more commonly found in the northern regions
  • Traminer Aromatico (g) – aka Gewurztraminer, more commonly seen in the northern regions in dry or off-dry wines
  • Montepulciano (black) – famous indigenous grape of this region
  • Sangiovese (b) – more associated with Tuscan reds but is often found in blends of Umbria and Abruzzo
  • Merlot (b) – French variety that is among the most planted black grape varieties in all of Italy!
  • Aglianico (b) – hearty black grape more associated with red wines in Campania and Basilicata
  • Barbera (b) – black variety that makes up many wines in Piedmont
  • Cabernet Franc (b) – French variety
  • Cabernet Sauvignon (b) – noble French variety
  • Canaiolo Nero (b)
  • Ciliegiolo (b) – common blending partner in Chianti wines
  • Dolcetto (b) – Piedmont variety
  • Gaglioppo (b)
  • Maiolica (b)
  • Malbech (b) – aka Malbec
  • Marzemino (b) – more often associated with northern region red wines
  • Nebbiolo (b) – noble variety of Piedmont
  • Pinot Nero (b) – aka Pinot Noir, noble French grape often used in northern reds and sparkling wines
  • Primitivo (b) – of Puglian fame
  • Refosco (b)
  • Syrah (b) – Rhone variety that finds itself in Italy usually in Tuscan or Sicilian blends

The Better Known Wines:
Wines from this area are often regionally and/or varietally labelled, for example Trebbiano d’Abruzzo (grape + region) or Ortona (region).

Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC/G– $-$$, undeniably the region’s major star, this wine is typically Montepulciano-dominate but may have other varieties blended in like Sangiovese.  They are usually described as “rustic”, darkly colored, tannic, and full of dark fruit (plum, cherry) and spicy flavours. Entry level wines are cheaper and easier partners for pasta, pizza, and salumi while bigger (and more expensive) aged/reserva versions can compliment steaks, roasts, and hamburgers.

2014-04-04 19.29.42Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo DOC – $-$$, robust and dry rose wines made from the Montepulciano grape (either entirely or minimum 85%).  They are usually meaty and full-bodied with fruity and spicy notes, so they can handle savoury meat sauces quite easily while still having enough pretty red fruit character to partner with appetizers like cheese plates, pastas without tomato sauces (e.g. pecorino romano cheese, butter+sage, or alfredo) and fish plates.

Trebbiano d’Abruzzo DOC – $-$$, a confusingly named white for sure, because as it turns out the wine may not contain Trebbiano at all!  Trebbiano d’Abruzzo (or Trebbiano Abruzzese) is actually a grape called Bombino Bianco.  Wines labeled “Trebbiano d’Abruzzo” therefore might be entirely Bombino Bianco, or a blend that contains a small portion of Trebbiano Toscano.  Trebbiano d’Abruzzo wines tend to be easy-drinking whites with high acidity and citrus and almond notes.  They can be sometimes pretty underwhleming so look for versions labeled as Superiore for a more substantial wine experience.

Abruzzo DOC – $-$$, this regional appellation was created in 2010 to incorporate Passerina and Pecorino in particular.  Other than whites made from Pecorino or Passerina, Abruzzo DOCs might be whites made from other permitted varieties (see list above), reds, sparkling, and dessert wines.

DOCG Wines of Abruzzo to Date:2014-02-05 20.18.06

  • Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Colline Teramane – red

DOC Wines of Abruzzo to Date:

  • Abruzzo – red, white, sparkling, passito
  • Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo – rose
  • Controguerra – novello, red, white, sparkling, passito
  • Montepulciano d’Abruzzo – red
  • Ortona – white, red
  • Terre Tollesi/Tullum – white, red, novello, sparkling, passito
  • Trebbiano d’Abruzzo – white
  • Villamagna – red

IGT Wines of Abruzzo to Date:

  • Colli Aprutini – novello, red, white, sparkling, passito
  • Colli del Sangro – novello, red, white, sparkling, passito
  • Colline Frentane – novello, red, white, sparkling, passito
  • Colline Pescaresi – novello, red, white, sparkling, passito
  • Colline Teatine – novello, red, white, sparkling, passito
  • Del Vastese/Histonium – novello, red, white, sparkling, passito
  • Terre Aquilane – novello, red, white, sparkling, passito
  • Terre di Chieti – novello, red, white, sparkling, passito

Aubrie Talarico

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2 Responses to Italian Wine Regions: Abruzzo

  1. No mention of the fact that Cantina Orsogna in Abruzzo was named Italy’s ‘Winery of the Year’ 2012 at the annual VinItaly expo ?

  2. Fair enough, here’s a great breakdown about said winery:

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