Abruzzo has been called Italy’s last great wilderness and it’s easy to see why. An area unspoiled by modernisation. A mix of medieval towns and old fortifications sit amongst an array of natural parks. This helps to preserve both the natural beauty of the area and the rare creatures which call it home.
The only thing that could make it better is if they also produce great wine. Thankfully, Abruzzo does. The region is most famous for its Montepulciano, which is labelled as Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. However, it also produces a number of great white grapes, including Trebbiano, Passerina and Pecorino.
The Terroir of Abruzzo
The Abruzzo region sits on the calf on Italy’s famous boot outline. This is a region which seems tailor made to support all things green and glorious, (especially vineyards).
Abruzzo is a dry and sunny region, with an elevated terrain. Three quarters of vineyards are more than 610 metres above sea level, (MacNeil 412). These would be classed as major mountains in the UK!
The elevation means that they’re more likely to get ample sunlight. However, overheating could be damaging to the grapes. Thankfully, the coastal breezes from the Adriatic help mitigate this. This ensures the grapes are good and healthy.
These fantastic conditions are clearly doing the trick. The Abruzzo is one of the most productive regions in the country. It produces around 22 millions cases more wine than Tuscany, despite having half the vineyard space.
Although Abruzzo is dominated by a great deal of cooperatives producing large quantities of everyday wine. Yet, amongst them, smaller producers are really harnessing the elements to produce unique and delicious wines. Wines that provide a real insight into the region, while remaining distinct to the everyday Montepulciano d’Abruzzo found in most supermarkets.
The Grapes of Abruzzo
Now, you’ve got the low down on the terroir of the region. Next, let’s look at the grapes of Abruzzo and provide a bit more on the styles of wine you can expect from this wild region.
When talking about Abruzzo wine, things should start with Montepulciano. Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is one of the most well-known wines around the world. This in demand wine produces nearly 19 million gallons of wine a year.
Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is a deep ruby colour and often particularly spicy. So, flavours of plums, blackberry, blueberry, raspberry and cherry all are likely to present themselves. On top of this, expect a mesquite-like smokiness, with notes of pepper, liquorice and baking spice.
A variation to keep your eye out for is the Cerasuolo Montepulciano. Cerasuolo, (which translates to ‘cherry-red’), refers to the cherry red colour of the wine. Like so many classic rosé wines, the shorter time in contact of the skin of the Montepulciano grapes allow for a lighter colour. A different flavour profile is also evident. There’s a real punchy acidity and elegance to this rosé, which displays strong notes of wild red fruit.
Next, are the white grapes. Here, there is room for confusion. Trebbiano d’Abruzzo is one of six distinct varieties, known as ‘Trebbiano’ in Italy. It’s hard to pin down this grape. Some consider it not to be Trebbiano at all, but rather the ‘Bombino Bianco’ of Puglia. This is yet to be proved through DNA profiling though, (Robinson and Harding 755).
Look out for big flavours of ripe peach flesh with Trebbiano d’Abruzzo. On top of that, rich acidic flavours of green apples and lemons. Further herbaceous notes, often of basil, add complexity to this delectable offering.
Another grape of note in Abruzzo is Passerina. Passerina was often mistaken for Trebbiano. However, this ancient grape, which is widely planted in the central region of Marche, is a distinct variety. The name of the grape comes from the Italian word for ‘sparrow’, (‘Passera/Passero’). Supposedly, this stems from Italian winemakers noting the sparrow’s particular love for munching down ripe Passerina grapes.
In terms of flavour, the Passerina has a real kick to it. Delightfully acidic makes it infinitely refreshing. Undeniably light, with notes of apple, lemon, lime and delicate floral notes.
Last, but not least, on our tour of the grapes of Abruzzo is Pecorino. Pecorino is more than just the crumbly sheep’s milk cheese from Rome. It’s also a light-skinned white grape found across the regions of Marche, Umbria, Tuscany and of course Abruzzo.
There is a meaning behind these homonyms. Pecorino means ‘little sheep’. For the cheese, made from sheep’s milk the reason for the name is clear. While the grapes name is meant to stem from it being a favourite of flocks of sheep which were driven through the vineyards.
The sheep, (much like the sparrows and Passerina), were clearly on the right track because Pecorino is delicious. They possess a wonderful balance of sweetness and acidity. Fresh, but with a complexity that not many wines this light tend to show. Expect strong citrus and stone fruit notes, with floral, herbaceous and mineral elements.
Abruzzo Producers In Focus
Next is a look at our friends at Tenuta Arabona, who are pictured above. Now, many of you will likely have sampled one of their wonderful wines this month. So, let’s learn about the family who got their grapes into your glass.
Tenuta Arabona has been a farm since 1727, when it used to specialise in olive oil. Wine-making became the focus in the late 1960s and we couldn’t be happier. They converted to organic farming in 1991. They then went on to formally found ‘Tenuta Arabona’ in 2006. To this day, the family-owned farm covers around 20 hectares of vineyards, with a further 1.5 hectares dedicated to the historic olive groves.
The vineyards are situated in the hills of Santa Maria Arabona. The hills share their name with a 12th century abbey, which gives the vineyards its name. This overlooks sprawling green mountains, olive trees and quaint farmhouses. All set in the background of the imposing Majella mountain, (part of the Apennine Mountain ranges).
We alluded to the fact that there are small producers making outstanding wine in Abruzzo. These winemakers are using innovative approaches to create natural wines which represent this stunning region.
Tenuta Arabona is one of them. A marriage of modern technology and ancient traditions. This serves to maintain the natural flavours of the region. Indeed, part of the reason organic, low-intervention methods are so desirable is their ability to more profoundly reflect the terroir of the region.
The Di Ubaldo family are relatively new to winemaking. The family had worked for generations in the textile industry. This former life is seen in their labelling, which has a delicate fabric element to it.
Many scoffed at their departure. Yet, once you taste the wine, you’ll be glad they chose the path they did. Drawing on nature’s gifts, they have adopted an organic approach. They avoid chemical and synthetic pesticides and fertilisers.
Over 15 hectares, the Di Ubaldo farm specialises in classic Abruzzo grapes, such as Montepulciano, Passerina and Pecorino. The vineyards are in the shade of the Girella and Feltrone Mountains. The Salinello river, which splits these twin mountains, also runs through the vineyard.
We’re proud to partner with both Tenuta Arabona and Di Ubaldo, who are both natural winemakers creating delicious wine.
What To Do In Abruzzo
As much as any trip to Italy should have a big focus on food and wine, there’s much more to Abruzzo than this. We’ve stated that this region truly is an area of natural beauty. We weren’t lying.
Indeed, there are an abundance of national parks and nature reserves in Abruzzo. 3 national parks and 38 protected nature reserves to be exact. Pair this with Europe’s southernmost glacier and the Apennine mountains. This all serves to create a truly unique landscape. The perfect getaway for any oenophile who’s slightly wild at heart.
If you’d rather soak in some historic towns, Abruzzo has it all. Indeed, L’Aquila, (which translates to the eagle), is the capital of the region. The winding narrow streets of this town sit inside old medieval walls.
Amongst this lively yet intimate city, you can expect to find lots of attractions. These include, roman ruins, art galleries and a symphony orchestra. This is all wrapped up in unique architecture. L’Aquila maintains it’s medieval, Baroque and Renaissance roots.
Another great option is Pescara. This bustling metropolis has a more modern feel. They rebuilt much of Pescara in the 19th and 20th Century. This was due to the damage caused by World War II. This means that it truly possesses a distinct feel to L’Aquila. A fishing village at heart. Yet, it is now a vibrant and modern coastal town.
If you want to get away from the hustle and bustle, you can try Manoppello. This commune, located just outside of Pescara, makes a great destination for a day trip. Beautiful churches and delicious food. Also, you can even go visit our friends at Tenuta Arabona. They’re just a 10 minute drive, or an hour hike, to the north.
That’s our Abruzzo Almanac. All the need to know details, to give you some more background information on this beautiful wine region.
Thirst for knowledge still not quenched? Want to learn about another great Italian region? Try our overview of Sicily – read here.
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MacNeil, Karen. The Wine Bible. Workman Publishing Company, 2015.
Robinson, Jancis and Julia Harding, editors. The Oxford Companion to Wine. Oxford University Press, 2015.
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