ITALIAN WINE CLUB

NOVEMBER 2020

CRAZY FOR ABRUZZESE

Abruzzo is a beautiful region that runs the topographical gamut from the Adriatic to the Apennines. It holds a unique place with regards to its reputation in the world of Italian wine. There are just three wines that make up the overwhelming majority of production: Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo (Rosato made from Montepulciano) and Trebbiano d’Abruzzo. Interestingly, all three of these DOC’s are essentially region wide as opposed to their own unique boundaries. 

As Abruzzo moves toward greater quality over quantity, there are changes happening that are certainly worthy of attention. A focus on sub-regional delineation as a method of recognizing quality has helped consumers understand that not all Montelpucianos are created equal. For Trebbiano, the attention has been put on recognizing the specific clone and championing its use over the many other grapes under its genealogically diverse umbrella. And lastly, the re-introduction of an older local grape, Pecorino, has inspired both producers and wine lovers alike into following it’s delicious progress. 

Abruzzese wines when compared to other regions can be simple to understand on the surface, but digging further into what incredible wines are there to be discovered has never been as fruitful as it is today.

– Kevin Wardell, November 2020

DOWNLOAD PDF OF TASTING NOTES HERE

 

WINE #1: CIRELLI PECORINO

Pescara, Abruzzo, Italy 2019
RE-ORDER $21

[pek-or-EE-no]

In a mass confusion of interplanted, interrelated white varieties, Cocci Grifoni decided to dedicate himself to finding a grape that better expressed his land and climate. Then he heard about an 80 year old farmer in Aquata del Tronto who owned an abandoned vineyard perched at 1000 meters above sea level planted entirely to a forgotten variety called Pecorino. The result is now a fabulous range of producers working with the grape and discovering just where it can go. It continues to show fabulous promise due to the fact that it retains acidity well in heat, and flaunts minerality and herbaceousness.

Francesco Cirelli graduated from studying business and finance but abruptly changed course right out of college when he heard the call to return to his homeland in Abruzzo and put his farmer roots into the soil. In 2003 he bought a parcel of land in the midst of a biological preserve and established “La Collina Biologica,” an agricultural institute dedicated to studying sustainable, organic farming in the hills of Pescara. The farm spans over 50 acres with only 14 acres planted to vineyards, and just a tiny parcel of 5 acres are dedicated to Pecorino. The rest of the land is lush with wheat, legumes, cereals, olive groves, pastures, and plenty of geese.  The soils are sandy clay on limestone, and Francesco feels the calcareous crust lends acidity and finesse to his wines. He states as matter-of-fact as you can get: 

“My goal is to make wine that will reflect the features of the terroir as much as possible, which will tell the story of a particular crop, climate, our soils. And everything else does not interest me.”

As clear and transparent as the winemaker’s vision, this wine walks the line between utter mineral and fruitfulness. There’s both a bright green herbaceousness and a limestone crunch, like salted fried parsley teetering on top of a hearty helping of floral beeswax and white nectarine flesh. Pecorino at its heart is all about texture and that is clearly on display here. The salted stone crunchiness is somehow so reminiscent of stone fruit on a summer day, like a just-ripe peach on a beach boardwalk.

Pecorino shares its name with the ultra-famous dry cheese, but both take their name from the Italian word for sheep. The local legend goes that winemakers know the grapes are ripe when the sheep come down from pasture and start to munch on them.

WINE #2: AMOROTTI TREBBIANO

Loreto Aprutino, Abruzzo, Italy 2017
Organic
RE-ORDER $37

[treb-bee-AH-noh]

Trebbiano Abruzzese is the official name for this particular grape. Trebbiano is as confusing as it gets, as there are dozens of distinct varieties that carry the name  throughout the country. In fact, the Trebbiano family of grapes accounts for about a third of all the white wine produced in Italy. It’s success is simply explained- incredibly high yielding, and unrivaled resistance to disease. Basically, it is really easy to grow, making it a superior clone when compared to so many others.

The Amorotti cellar is a subterranean maze of bricks and stones carved underneath the family’s abode in the middle of the ancient medieval village of Loreto Aprutino. The underground cellar also neighbors the infamous Azienda Valentini, whose patriarch, the late Eduardo Valentini, created one of Italy’s most sought-after wines – his Trebbiano d’Abruzzo. Eduardo had ripped out what he called ‘characterless Trebbiano Tuscana’ and replaced his vineyards with the local Abruzzese variety. He then proceeded to blow people’s minds with the complexity and age worthiness of his microscopic production. Amorotti’s founder Gaetano Carboni studied under his famous neighbor Eduardo, the master of Trebbiano, and since 2016 has continued in his stead with his own label, Amorotti.  He farms his Montepulciano and Trebbiano Abruzzese vineyards organically, high up in the hills of Abruzzo in chalky-clay soils, and he makes his wines in a natural and reductive style. He ferments and ages this Trebbiano in untoasted barrels for one year.

As rich as liquid gold, the color is butterscotch and dried leaves. The lightly reductive toast on the nose is like a tea light in a jack-a-lantern, a roasted and rich flinty hint of Burgundy that will baffle anyone who has ever felt nebulous about Trebbiano. The oh-so rare combination of patient winemaking process and world class fruit pays off here. Floating along beneath all the roasted almond character is a bloom of chamomile flowers, a smear of mandarin marmalade, and a pop of under ripe kumquats, all dipped in a melted brie cheese. 

No relation at all, but amoretti means ‘a bunch of cupids.’ That’s amore.

WINE #3: TORRE DEI BEATI ‘ROSA-AE’ MONTEPULCIANO

Loreto Aprutino, Abruzzo, Italy 2018
RE-ORDER $22

[MOHN-teh-pool-CHEE’AH-noh]

A separate DOC since 2010, the rosé (rosato) style of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is labeled as Cerasuolo which means “cherry-red” and relates to the deep color the wine gets even with very brief skin-contact with the highly pigmented skins of the Montepulciano grape. Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo does not get the credit it deserves, as the rosés of fashion these days are far more akin to white wines than they are red. The opposite is true here. Most quality Cerasuolo acts and feels like a chilled red wine and comes with the major bonus of being far more versatile when pairing with food. The Torre dei Beati ‘Rosa-ae’ was named ‘Pink Wine of the Year’ last vintage. Well earned respect!

The vineyards of Torre dei Beati lie at the feet of the tallest mountain in all of the Apennines, a stunning massif that reaches almost 10,000 ft high and aptly named the Gran Sasso, “the great stone.”  In the shadow of this big rock, the vines experience both warm wind whipping up from the Adriatic sea, and cold air sinking from the mountain at night, especially later in the harvest when the Gran Sasso is snow-sprinkled. The 30 acres of Montepulciano, Pecorino and Trebbiano were first planted in 1972 in the clay and limestone soils of Loreto Aprutino. But it took almost 30 years for the family to make wine from their own fields, when Fausto Albanesi and Adriana Galasso converted the old farmhouse into a winery cellar.  

 

Today they are outspoken believers in organic viticulture and they maintain the old style of vine training, the high curtain of canopy called “pergola abruzzese.”  The fanciful name  “Torre dei Beati” or Tower of the Blessed, comes from a medieval fresco in a local church which dates back to the 14th century. The mural depicts the judgment of souls who must prove their worthiness before entering heaven, just as the couple feels that their grapes must pass their judgment to make the wine.

‘Provence pale’ be damned! There is just nothing shy about this blush, from the lustrous scarlet color to the fistful of fresh-cut strawberries in the nose. This is a rosato molto rosato, as ruby as they come. All kinds of red fruits burst from this cheerful cherry-full cerasuolo: strawberry fruit roll-up, pickled rhubarb, clove spice pomegranate sauce, with a confectionary waxiness like swedish-fish and a hint of serrano pepper. It finishes with a dash of perfectly lingering alpine amaro spices. 

Castello nuevo di Papa… Pope John Paul II loved the Gran Sasso area and spent so much time in the mountains above Loreto Aprutino that when he died, the Church gifted the town a vial of the Pope’s blood.

WINE #4: LA QUERCIA RISERVA MONTEPULCIANO

Morro d’Oro, Abruzzo, Italy 2016
RE-ORDER $25

[MOHN-teh-pool-CHEE’AH-noh]

The powerhouse grape that is perhaps too prolific for its own good. Montepulciano grows so successfully in the Abruzzo climate that for generations much of the farming has been focused on volume first, quantity over quality. Many great Abruzzese producers, as well as in neighboring Adriatic regions Marche and Molise, now experiment with their own combinations of clonal selection and unique vineyard management techniques. At the very least they’ve proven there is no single correct path to success. Montepulciano has proven it can handle strength and extraction just as it can show finesse and elegance; it can be made to be enjoyed young as much as it can age beautifully.  

The Quercia farm project is a communal effort started 20 years ago by four friends in the wine industry. Elisabetta, Antonio, Fabio and Luca worked together in the 1980s for a large production winery, and each brought their own set of skills along when they decided to go into business together. They took over a small winery cellar called La Quercia along with its 30 acres of vineyards and olive groves located on a windy hillside above the Adriatic Sea in the Morro d’Oro province of Teramo. The vines are mainly dedicated to the king of Abruzzo – Montepulciano – with smaller plantings of Montonico, Trebbiano, Passerina, and Pecorino. The fertile clay soils of this “golden” area are well regarded here, and the bountiful organic farm also produces their own salami, bread, vegetables, olive oil, and cheeses. The name “La Quercia” is Italian for oak tree, a symbol they feel connotes the beauty, strength, longevity and majesty of the vines, and the character that they strive for in their wines. The Montepulciano is kept at very low yields in order to extract the deepest expression of the grape, and the wine is aged for several years for more concentration.

Inky teeth-staining purple goodness grapeness! As concentrated as Cabernet, as fruity as an old vine Zin, and as jam-packed with blackberry eucalyptus as a Shiraz, this is definitely a shebang of a mouthful! The full-bodied fleshy texture is all boysenberry fruit and raw demerara sugar, with aromatic juniper berry and a sprinkling of celery salt acidity. Powerful precision with all that oversized fruit character is wrapped up neatly with a velvety cocoa powder tannin bow. 

Montepulciano d’Abruzzo was one of Italy’s first DOCs established in 1968, and the Riserva designation is only used for wines aged more than two years in cellar.