Italy’s province of Abruzzo may be small geographically, but in the wine world it’s getting larger and larger every day.
On Nov. 11, Wine Enthusiast handed out its Wine Star Awards and named Abruzzo its “Wine Region of Year 2022.” The central Italian province beat out Marlborough, New Zealand; Rogue Valley, Southern Oregon; Uco Valley, Argentina; and SLO Coast, Calif., among other finalists.
According to competition organizers, Abruzzo is “a hidden gem” for the most passionate oenophiles; from its unspoiled villages to its breathtaking natural landscapes, filled with waterfalls, rivers, and historic castles.
With three national parks and 38 natural wildlife preserves, Abruzzo is often described as Europe’s “green forest.”
Its eastern coastline touches the Adriatic Sea. Its mountainous western border is only 30 miles from Rome (Lazio province).
Abruzzo is Italy’s fifth largest wine-producing region with 75,000 acres under vine – about twice the size of Napa Valley. Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is both the No. 1 red grape and red wine.
In mid-October, I attended a private tasting seminar – titled “The Charming Taste of Europe” – featuring eight premium 100 percent Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC wines at Rochambeau in Boston.
Master Sommelier Michael Meagher led the tasting with insightful elan. He was ably assisted by Davide Acerra, communications director for the Consortium for Protection of Abruzzi Wines which represents 250 wineries and 35 cooperatives.
“Abruzzo is a tiny wine-producing region in the global scheme of things,” said Meagher, “but the wines – these in particular – are the hidden gems of Italy. They are delicious, affordable and high quality.”
In recent years, young winemakers and new investors have brought modern ideas, new technology and a respect for protecting the land to Abruzzo. Montepulciano d’Abruzzo wines have benefitted greatly, with the demand for quality outstripping quantity as a primary goal.
To say the least, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, a great Italian red wine, is no longer a secret.
The following is a summary of each Montepulciano d’Abruzzo wine with comments from Sommelier Meagher and my impressions.
Velenosi Prope 2020, Contraguerra, Teramo, SRP: $20; abv. 13.5% – Fruity, bright, soft on the palate and delicious. Grapes are sourced from vineyards in Contraguerra, in Abruzzo’s northeastern corner across the border from the winery’s estate in Ascoli Piceno (province of Marche). “Prope” in Latin means “close to” – a reference to the Velenosi family’s ties to both wine-growing areas.
Sommelier Meagher described Prope as the “Gamay of Montepulciano”, a reference to the easy-drinking grape from Burgundy that is the heart-and-soul of Beaujolais wine.
“(Prope) shows the playfulness that Montepulciano can have,” he added.
The wine, aged in large wood barrels for 12 months after fermentation, is alert in concentrated aromas and flavors. The texture is velvety smooth.
My analysis: Like Dorothy’s slippers in “The Wizard of Oz”, Prope’s deep, red ruby color and juicy, dark cherry and spicy flavors click all the way home from the first sip to the last swallow.
Tenuta I Fauri “Ottobre Rosso” 2020, Chieti, SRP: $20; abv. 14% – From initial fermentation (10-12 days) to aging (9 months), the DiCamillo family crafts a more traditional-style Montepulciano in concrete vats. The focus is on purity, where the use of oak is sacrosanct in the production process.
Ottobre Rosso’s aromas are liberated, the mouthfeel is weightier, and tannins slightly firmer. The dark cherry flavor lands on a drier side accented by stone minerality.
The fruit comes from hilly, clay soil vineyards in Villa Magna, once an ancient Roman commune. It’s part of a broader area that is considered the heart of the Chieti wine-growing region where Montepulciano is king.
About 30,000 bottles are produced annually. The local importer is Atlantic Beverage Distributor (609-665-4272).
My Analysis: “Red October” – the wine’s name in English – makes a solid impression on all fronts.
Torre Dei Beati “Cocciapazza” 2020, Pescara, SRP: $25; abv. 14% – A biodynamic wine from one of Abruzzi’s top producers, Cocciapazza is a full-bodied, rich and elegant Montepulciano that spends 20 months in French oak barrels (70% new). The effect is an expressive wine, intense in color (ruby red with glistening purple streaks), aromas (cherry and violets) and flavor (black cherry and a layers of tobacco, chocolate and licorice).
The winery’s name, Torre dei Beati, translates to “Tower of Blessed and comes from a 14th century fresco in the local church St. Maria in Piano Church.”Cocciapazza” translates to “crazy head”, which is the ancient area where the Beati’s 5-acre vineyard for this wine is planted in Loretto Aprutino.
Sommelier Meagher noted that Cocciapazza “holds up well with its enhancements (wood treatment)” and “retains its acidity” as should a well-balanced Montepulciano wine.
Charles River Wine Co. (508-347-9200) is the importer.
My analysis: Cocciapazza is a well-integrated wine that exhibits freshness, fruitiness and complex flavor and spices. One of my Abruzzo favorites at the tasting.
Vigna Madre Becco Reale 2018, Ortona (Chieti), SRP: $20, abv. 13.5% – The DiCarlo family has been making wine in the area for 192 years and has championed biodynamic vineyard practices since 1991. “Productive humanism” is how they describe their protection of the land in crafting vegan-friendly quality wines.
Becco Reale is a modern-style Montepulciano. It’s aged a total of 18 months – six months each in stainless steel tanks, French barriques, and in bottle. The wine is light, airy, fruity, fresh and masterfully integrates a creamy texture – with subtle vanilla notes – on a balanced frame. The finish ends dry with a long taste of blackberry, licorice and wild herbs.
Becco Reale is named for the “Queen of the Woods”, a migratory woodcock that lives in the Vigna Madre’s “uncontaminated” vineyards.
Presently, there is no importer for this wine – but hopefully that will change soon.
My analysis: Becco Reale offers substantive, penetrating fruit and elegance without sacrificing harmony and flavor. This bird soars.
Fosso Corno Mayro 2020, Teramo, SRP: $18, abv. 13% – The “farm” spreads out over 70 vineyard acres on a single hillside in Roseto degli Abruzzi, offering majestic views of the Adriatic Sea to the east and the imposing Gran Sasso mountains to the west. Mayro is the vineyard’s name where Montepulciano grapes originate.
Fosso Corno produces six Montepulciano d’Abruzzo wines across four brands, including three premium Riservas. Mayro is considered the house’s entry-level version. That said, Mayro is an over-achiever.
Full-bodied and flavorful, Mayro rolls smoothly across the palate, delivering a cherry pie coating infused with plum sauce and spices. It’s got a long, uplifting finish.
Fosso Corno is still looking for an importer.
My Take: Mayro is a versatile, tasty wine that can perk up any casual pizza party or be pleasantly served with a sit-down dinner. The winemaker suggests pasta with meat sauces, roasted red meat and steak.
Pasetti Tenutarossa Riserva 2018, Pescara, SRP: $50, abv. 15% – The Pasetti family has worked the land for five generations and produced its first commercial wines in the 1960s. Two decades later, oenologist Mimmo Pasetti introduced “Testarossa” (red head) following the birth of his red-haired daughter Francesca.
Today, the winery’s flagship wine is called Tenutarossa (red winery).
Without a doubt, Tenutarossa Riserva commands distinction for its precise handling and top quality.
Sommelier Meagher termed it “a strong wine with intense characteristics … big taste and structure, classy and elegant with a long finish.”
Italian law requires Montepulciano riserva to have a minimum 12.5% alcohol and a minimum of two years of aging, including nine months in wood. Tenutarossa comes in at 15% alcohol and is aged for 42 months – six in stainless steel vats, 24 in French oak barriques and 12 months in bottle.
Pasetti’s patient process results in a spectacular wine, layered with complex aromas and flavors that stimulate the senses on many levels. Dried red and black fruit, violets, licorice, tobacco, espresso, and chocolate are among the multitude of expressions.
Vineyards wine are located in Pescosansonesco, a terroir-driven place of clay and fossilized soils that sits inside a national park near the Gran Sasso masiff.
About 80,000 bottles are produced annually.
Angelini Wine (860-662-2659) is the importer.
My Take: Polished, refined, and intense, Tenutarossa Riserva is worth every penny of its asking price. It will provide plenty of enjoyment over the next 15 years if cellared properly, but why let this gem tempt fate for even a moment?
Ciavolich Divus 2017, Pescara, SRP: $21, abv. 14% – Winemaking is now in the hands of Chiara Ciavolich, whose historic family fled Bulgaria and the Saracens in the early 19th century, settled in Pescara in 1853, and survived two World Wars, including being pushed off their land by German soldiers in the 1940s.
The heart of the estate’s wine production comes from 75 vineyard acres planted in Loretto Aprutino. Vines date back to the 1980s and are the main fruit source for Divus Montepulciano, which made its debut in 1987.
Ciavolich is a champion of sustainable farming methods and the creation of pure, expressive wines that give identity to their place of origin. Divus’ juice ferments in steel vats before transference to old barrels and barriques where the wine ages for one year. Its maturity continues in bottle to soften tannic structure.
Divus has the medium-bodied feel of a bright, cool-climate wine. Savory flavors of wild blackberry, plum, grilled meat, and wet earth mesh gracefully, leading to a distinctive mineral finish.
Approximately 30,000 bottles were produced in 2017.
Vine Farmer Wines (508-265-5383) is the importer.
My Take: A thoroughly enjoyable wine with a lot of fruity appeal, silky texture and dusty finish. I hunted down two bottles at the Eataly wine store in Boston and took them home for an upcoming holiday celebration.
Cantine Agriverde Plateo Riserva 2018, Ortona (Chieti), SRP: $55; abv. 14.5% – Plateo Riserva is a very exclusive wine and deservedly so. It’s produced only in the very best of vintages and in small quantities. The predecessor to the 2018 vintage was the widely praised 2015 release.
Cantine Agriverde dates back to 1830. In the 1980s, it became one of Italy’s first organic farming wineries and is EU-accredited from the Institute of Environmental Ethical Certification.
On my very first sip, I knew Plateo Riserva commanded rispetta for its incredible power, depth and intriguing characteristics.
“This comes closer to a Napa Valley wine stylistically than most Montepulciano wines,” said Sommelier Michael Meagher. “Wine drinkers in this country will flock to this if given the chance. It is a great example of what Montepulciano can do with extended aging.”
There are few wines in the world that are aged for six years before commercial release and Plateo Riserva is one of them.
The wine is structured to age gracefully for two decades.
Plateo Riserva carries a brilliant color of red ruby, purple and violet hues. The nose is loaded with baking spices of cocoa, vanilla, coffee and cinnamon. The palate is plush and pulsating with an explosion of ripe red fruit and well-integrated layers of plum pudding, rustic herbs and vanilla spice.
Gambero Rosso writer Luciano di Lello termed Plateo Riserva “One of the best wines ever produced in Italy …”
My Take: Fascinating and superb, Plateo Riserva’s only flaw is there is no U.S. importer – yet – for this gem from Abruzzo.