For the past three years, the pandemic has been challenging for everyone. However, even during these difficult times, Italy’s passion for wine and its global influence remains unwavering. Italy continues to hold the top position in the world with 4.5 billion liters of annual wine production and 2.1 billion liters of wine exports. Among the 20 regions in Italy, Abruzzo stands strong, ranking fifth in terms of wine production and sales, making it a significant player in the industry. Recently, Abruzzo received the prestigious recognition of “2022 Best Wine Region” awarded by the top wine magazine Wine Enthusiast.
Over the past two years, with masterclasses and roadshows held in fifteen major cities across China, the awareness and appreciation of Abruzzo wines have significantly increased in the Chinese market. This style of wine, known for its rich, smooth, and distinctly Italian character at an excellent value, has the potential to become a favorite choice among importers, distributors, and consumers in China. That’s why I chose Abruzzo as my first destination to return to the European mainland after three years of the pandemic. As the plane landed at Rome Airport, we embarked on a journey eastward, crossing the central Apennine Mountains, to explore this mysterious and enchanting land…
About this Enchanting Land
Geographically, the Abruzzo region is located in central Italy, bordered by Marche to the north, Molise to the south, Lazio to the west, and overlooking the Adriatic Sea, an important sub-basin of the Mediterranean Sea, to the east. Its coastline stretches for dozens of kilometers, adorned with charming “little fishing huts” that showcase the beauty of the Adriatic Sea. Nowadays, most of these quaint fishing huts have been transformed into atmospheric and romantic seaside restaurants, where the signature dishes feature a variety of freshly caught seafood, perfectly complemented by local dry white wines, offering an authentic taste of the Adriatic Sea!
The Abruzzo region is often referred to as the “Green Heart of Europe” due to over one-third of its territory being covered by famous national parks, regional parks, and chamois bear conservation areas. The highest peak of the central Apennines, Gran Sasso, proudly stands here, providing natural advantages for grape cultivation with its unique geographical conditions.
The Abruzzo region can be further divided into four provinces, with Chieti province being the largest wine-producing region, contributing to over 80% of the total wine production in the region. Additionally, Pescara, Teramo, and L’Aquila provinces also have grape cultivation and winemaking activities. The region as a whole experiences a warm Mediterranean climate, moderated by sea breezes from the Adriatic Sea. In the inland areas, the influence of the mountains results in a continental climate with significant day-night temperature variations. It is worth noting that the drive from the high mountainous inland to the coastline takes just 40 minutes, offering diverse terrains, climates, and soils, which contribute to the unique and diverse characteristics of Abruzzo wines.
Our first stop was the boutique winery, Valentina Winery, located in the province of Pescara. The picturesque scene before us perfectly represents the essence of Abruzzo’s vineyards: undulating hills meeting the blue sky, patches of yellow-green hues interwoven, the snow-capped Majella Mountains in the distance, and the traditional trellis-style vineyards nearby. Grapevines are cultivated at various altitudes, slope orientations, and soil types, showcasing the rich nuances of terroir.
About Grape Varieties
The Backbone: Montepulciano
The most representative indigenous red grape variety in the Abruzzo region is Montepulciano, which has a long history dating back to as early as 1792, as documented in historical records. For those who enjoy Italian wines, Montepulciano is undoubtedly familiar. It is the second most widely planted red grape variety in Italy, just behind Sangiovese. The vast majority of Montepulciano vineyards can be found in the Abruzzo region, making it the most important grape variety for several DOC/DOCG wines from this area.
Montepulciano is a late-ripening grape variety, typically cultivated using the traditional trellis system of Abruzzo. Its grape bunches are of medium size, forming a pyramid shape, with slightly oval-shaped berries and thick skins. This thickness contributes to its rich color, tannins, and flavor compounds. Compared to two other well-known Italian grape varieties, Nebbiolo and Sangiovese, the characteristics of Montepulciano are quite distinctive. Firstly, its color displays a deep and intense ruby red hue, whereas the other two varieties often exhibit lighter shades with a tendency to lean towards garnet. Secondly, its aromas are full and ripe, often with hints of black fruits and spices, in contrast to the red fruit and floral aromas commonly found in Nebbiolo and Sangiovese. The most significant difference lies in the palate: Nebbiolo and Sangiovese tend to have high acidity and pronounced tannins, which might be overwhelming for some wine enthusiasts, while Montepulciano demonstrates a more approachable and friendly acidity and tannin profile.
It is worth noting that the Montepulciano grape variety from the Abruzzo region should not be confused with the Vino Nobile di Montepulciano from Tuscany!
Similar to Muscat, Trebbiano is not a single grape variety, but a group of grape varieties. It includes the white Trebbiano di Soave used in the production of dry whites and some other more distinctive varieties. Among them, Trebbiano Abruzzess, mainly cultivated in the Abruzzo region of Italy, is a prime example. In fact, it can be considered one of Italy’s top-tier dry white wines. Who wouldn’t want a bottle of Trebbiano d’Abruzzo from the Valentini family on their wish list as a seasoned wine enthusiast?
Trebbiano Abruzzess grapes ripen relatively late. Although they naturally have high acidity, the acidity decreases significantly during the later stages of ripening. Therefore, the timing of the harvest is crucial for ensuring quality. High-quality wines display rich aromas of lemon, peach, and white flowers when young. The high acidity provides excellent aging potential, allowing the wine to age gracefully for up to ten or even several decades, developing complex and aromatic characteristics with time.
The designated appellation of Trebbiano d’Abruzzo DOC was established in 1972, celebrating its 50th anniversary last year! This is a grape variety with tremendous aging potential, as its presence on wine labels dates back as early as 1909!
Rising Star of the Region: Pecorino
When it comes to hot grape varieties in recent years in the Abruzzo region, Pecorino takes the lead! This nearly extinct variety was rescued by some visionary producers and Cataldi Madonna, a renowned winery in Abruzzo, was the first to proudly display its name on the label. In the past decade, Pecorino has experienced a significant increase in planting.
The name “Pecorino” is derived from the Italian word “pecora” (sheep), alluding to shepherds grazing their sheep in vineyards and eating the grapes. This grape has a low yield and thrives in mountainous climates, producing wines that naturally exhibit a refreshing and pleasant acidity. It also boasts enchanting herbal aromas such as sage, mint, and thyme.
About This Carefree Elegance
If I had to describe the wine experience in Abruzzo with just one word, I would undoubtedly choose “carefree elegance.” Yes, its elegance and attention to detail are everywhere, yet it seems effortlessly refined and unconstrained!
For instance, as I immerse myself in tasting at a winery terrace, I can’t help but lift my head to see a green lawn adorned with vibrant flowers, a deep blue sky with lazy white clouds, and in the distance, a medieval hilltop town, overlooking the surrounding vineyards like a medieval warrior…
Furthermore, we are invited to dine at a local restaurant with its unpretentious yet clean white walls, adorned with climbing jasmine exuding such a delightful fragrance that it immerses all guests in the early summer air of Abruzzo! The outdoor lawn is casually comfortable yet elegantly arranged, accompanied by a glass of Abruzzo’s peach-colored wine, Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo, its pink hue easily captivating the hearts of many. Italians truly excel in creating atmosphere, and I love this atmosphere that is unbound, seemingly effortless, yet filled with elegance and attention to detail – exactly how wine and life should be! At this moment, let’s raise our wine glasses and enjoy this carefree and delightful evening!