Saturday, December 13, 2014

Italy Unit 13 - Abruzzo

The following are my notes for studying the wines of the Abruzzo region of Italy including information about the topography, climate, soils, important red and white grapes and extensive information on the DOCs and DOCGS of the region. I also include notes on the wines I tasted from this region.

The name Abruzzo is thought to be derived from the Latin Aper (wild boar), whereby the name would mean “Region of wild boar” or from the Latin participle Abruptum (steep) in which it would mean “Region of steep rocks.”

Abruzzo is located south of the Marches on the Adriatic Coast, north of Molise and east of Lazio. It has a surface area of 4,168 square miles, 65% of which is mountainous. It is the 5th most productive region in Italy, but only 21.5% of which is made under the Denominazione di Origine Controllata (DOC) designation making it a major contributor to Italy’s lower quality wine lake. More than 2/3 of the wine is produced by co-operatives or sold in bulk to negociants in other Italian wine regions in Tuscany, Piedmont and Veneto for blending.

Red, Rosé and White Wines of Abruzzo

The most prominent red grape in Abruzzo is Montepulciano which is not to be confused with Tuscany’s Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. It is produced in all 4 provinces of Abruzzo - L'Aquila, Pescara, Teramo and the southern fertile province of Chieti which produces the largest total quantity of wine. The most important wines comes from the Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC and Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Colline Teramane DOCG, the classic zone of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo.

Rosato versions of Montepulciano are called Cerasuolo which in Italian means “cherry red” in color and it can be used to describe the overall color of any rosato (rosé) wine. In the Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo DOC the term is reserved for wines from vineyards in the region composed of at least 85% Montepulciano and the remaining 15% can be a blending of other non-aromatic red grapes suitable for cultivation in the region of Abruzzo. Cerasuolo tends to be medium-body and rather hearty for an Italian rosé with aromas of orange peel, cinnamon, strawberry and dried cherries.[1]

In addition to Montepulciano and other native grapes, a small percentage of French varietals such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc are also in the blend of the Controguerra DOC.

The dominant white grape in Abruzzo is Trebbiano the best of which are being developed from the “authentic” Trebbiano d’Abruzzo grape, which may be related to Apulia’s Bombino Bianco. Trebbiano d’Abruzzo DOC wines account for most of the region’s white wines, and may be produced from either Trebbiano Toscano or the distinct Trebbiano d’Abruzzo, also known as Bombino.

Climate and Soils
Along the coast Abruzzo has a maritime climate with an annual temperature of 54 – 61°F with the hottest temperatures in the summer months of around 75° F but it can get as hot as 86°F in July. The average annual temperature in the mountains is 46 and 54°F (with the warmest temperatures in the summer months, around 68°F. Like the coastal area, June and July are the hottest months, but there is little humidity in the summer mountain air. The northern regions of Abruzzo, along the Marche border, have microclimates, vineyard soils similar to other central Italian wine regions such as Tuscany, Umbria and Marche. In the southern Chieti region it has warmer, flatter, more humid and fertile vineyard sites with microclimates similar to southern Italian wine regions such as Calabria and Puglia.
Abruzzo has 8 Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT) zones which are: Colli Aprutini, Colli del Sangro, Colline Frentane, Colline Pescaresi, Colline Teatine, Del Vastese or Histonium, Terre Aquilane or Terre de L’Aquila, Terre di Chieti
DOCs and DOCGs
There are 8 Denominazioni di Origine Controllata (DOC)s and 1 Denominazioni di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG)s in Abruzzo.
1. Abruzzo DOC
Established in 2010. The primary white grape varietals are: Chardonnay, Cococciola, Gewürztraminer, Malvasia, Montonico Bianco, Moscato, Passerina, Pecorino, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Trebbiano. The primary red grape varietals are: Montepulciano and Pinot Nero (Pinot Noir) Bianco must consist of a minimum of 50% Trebbiano. Passito Bianco must consist of a minimum of 60% Gewürztraminer, Malvasia, Moscato, Passerina, Pecorino, Riesling, and/or Sauvignon Blanc. Rosso must consist of a minimum of 80% Montepulciano. Passito Rosso must consist of a minimum of 60% Montepulciano. Spumante must consist of a minimum of 60% Chardonnay, Cococciola, Montonico Bianco, Passerina, Pecorino, and/or Pinot Nero.  Spumante Rosato must consist of a minimum of 60% Montepulciano and/or Pinot Nero. Metodo Classico Rosé must consist of a minimum of 60% Montepulciano and/or Pinot Nero.
2. Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo DOC
Formerly part of the Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC; established as a separate DOC in 2010. The primary red grape varietal is Montepulciano. Rosso must consist of a minimum of 85% Montepulciano.
3. Controguerra DOC
Established in 1996. The primary white grape varietals are: Chardonnay, Malvasia, Passerina, Pecorino, Trebbiano. Bianco must consist of a minimum of 50% Trebbiano (Abruzzese, Toscano); minimum 10% Passerina. Rosso and Rosato must consist of a minimum of 70% Montepulciano. Spumante Metodo Classico must consist of a minimum of 60% Trebbiano; minimum 30% Chardonnay, Pecorino, and/or Verdicchio. Passito Bianco must consist of a minimum of 60% Malvasia, Passerina, and/or Trebbiano. Passito Rosso must consist of a minimum of 70% Montepulciano.
4. Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC
Established as a DOC in 1968; Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Colline Teramane was established as a separate DOCG in 2011. The primary red grape varietal is Montepulciano. Rosso must consist of a minimum of 85% Montepulciano. Subzones include; Alto Tirino, Terre di Casauria, Teate, Terre dei Peligni, Terre dei Vestini.
5. Ortona DOC
Established in 2011. The primary white grape varietal is Trebbiano. The primary red grape varietal is Montepulciano. Bianco must consist of a minimum of 70% Trebbiano. Rosso must consist of a minimum of 95% Montepulciano.
6. Terre Tollesi / Tullum DOC
Established in 2008. The primary white grape varietals are: Chardonnay, Falanghina, Malvasia, Moscato, Passerina, Pecorino, and Trebbiano. The primary red grape varietals are: Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Montepulciano and Sangiovese. Bianco must consist of a minimum of 75% Trebbiano. Rosso must consist of a minimum of 90% Montepulciano.  Spumante must consist of a minimum of 60% Chardonnay. Passito Bianco must consist of a minimum of 90% Malvasia and/or Moscato. Passito Rosso must consist of a minimum of 90% Montepulciano.
7. Trebbiano d’Abruzzo DOC
Established in 1972. The primary white grape varietals are: Bombino Bianco and Trebbiano. Bianco must consist of a minimum of 85% Trebbiano (Abruzzese and/or Toscano) and/or Bombino Bianco.
8. Villamagna DOC
Established in 2011. The primary red grape varietal is Montepulciano. Rosso must consist of a minimum of 95% Montepulciano.
 1. Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Colline Teramane DOCG
Established first as part of the Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC in 1995, the region was promoted to DOCG status in 2003. It is located within the Montepulciano d'Abruzzo DOC. The regulations for the wine are similar to Montepulciano d'Abruzzo except Rosso must consist of a minimum of 90% Montepulciano with a maximum of 10% Sangiovese.
Key White Grape Varieties
French Varietals
Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc
German Varietals
Gewürztraminer, Riesling
Bombino Bianco
Valued more for its generous yields than its aromatic qualities has a few nicknames such as Straccia Cambiale and Pagadebit (“the debt payer”) in reference to its reliably high yields. Although not related to Trebbiano, in Abruzzo it is known as Trebbiano d’Abruzzo.
This grape is primarily found in Abruzzo and northern Puglia. It is a green-skinned grape that produces straw-colored wine with high acidity and grassy, herbaceous aromas similar to Sauvignon Blanc. Traditionally it has been used as a blending grape but it is also bottled as a varietal wine in Colli Aprutini and Colline Teatine IGT in Abruzzo.
It also referred to as Falanghina Greco and its name is derived from the Latin falangae for the “stakes” used to support the grapes in a vineyard. It is an ancient grape variety which may have provided a basis for the classical Falernian wine, which was favored by the Romans. It is more commonly found in Campania.
Also known as Malmsey, Malvasier, Malvazia, Monemvasia. It is believed to be of Greek origin, the Malvasia family has been commercially important to the Mediterranean for more than 2000 years. Malvasia, the name, is a derivation of the coastal Greek town of Monemvasia. It is grown all over Italy.
Montonico Bianco
Not to be confused with Mantonico Bianco, DNA profiling has demonstrated that it is related to Garganega. The Montonico grape has been grown in Abruzzo at least since the mid-19th century, especially in the municipalities of Montonico di Bisenti and Poggio delle Rose in the province of Teramo. The grape bunch tends to be big, long and compact, either cylindrical or pyramid-shaped. Though it ripens lately, reaching full maturity around the second week of October, its harvest period depends on whether it is being used to produce spumante. This vine thrives in cool, tempered environments with low fertility soil. The wines produced with this grape have a more or less deep yellow color, sometimes with greenish highlights, low alcohol content, light fragrance of fruits and spices, are slightly astringent and have good structure.
Known as Moscatel in Spain and Portugal, and Muscat internationally it is one of the oldest and most widespread grape families in the world. It is believed to have originated in the Middle East and was grown by the ancient Greeks. Moscato Bianco (Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains) is the oldest and most highly valued of the Muscat family.
Known by various names such as “Pagadebito Gentile”, “Campolese” and “Uva Passera”, the term "Passerina" is derived from Passero the Italian word for “sparrow”, which are known for having an appetite for ripe Passerina grapes. The grape is thought to be a mutation of Biancame which is more well-known in Marche.
This grape may be native to Marche where it is still used today in the wines of Offida Pecorino DOCG. According to local legend, Pecorino gets its name from the sheep (pecora) who would snack on the grapes in the vineyards.
Trebbiano is also known as Ugni Blanc in France where it is used to produce both Cognac and Armagnac. There are a number of varieties that bear the name Trebbiano but some of them are not genetically related. In Italy, Trebbiano Toscano is sanctioned for use in about 85 of the country’s 300+ DOCs.
Key Red Grape Varieties
French Varietals
Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir (Pinot Nero).
Also known as Cordisco, Morellone, Primaticcio, Uva Abruzzo, and Violone The variety was named after the Tuscan parish of Montepulciano, but is no longer used to make wines in Tuscany. Nor should it be confused with Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, which is made from mostly Sangiovese. It tends to have moderate tannins and medium tannins making it drinkable in its youth. It can age well but will not gain any more complexity. Abruzzo's finest examples of Montepulciano come from the region's north, in the Colline Teramane foothills.
Sangiovese derives its name from the Latin Sanguis Jovis, “the blood of Jove and it has several synonyms. In Chianti Classico it may be referred to as Sangiovetto, in Montalcino it is called Brunello, in Montepulciano it is called Prugnello Gentile and along the coast in Maremma it is called Morellino. "Sangiovese" was actually several "varieties" of clones which he broadly classified as Sangiovese Grosso and Sangiovese Piccolo. The Sangiovese Grosso family includes the clones growing in the Brunello region as well as the clones known as Prugnolo Gentile and Sangiovese di Lamole that was grown in the Greve in Chianti region. Sangiovese wines in Tuscany tend to be light in color with sour cherry notes and herbal undertones. Structurally they are naturally high in acidity, firmly tannic, and medium to full-bodied. When aged, Sangiovese traditionally spends time in large European (often Slavonian) casks, but modern wines are just as likely to be aged in new barriques, which infuse both flavor and texture into the wines.
Notable Wine Producers
Edoardo Valentini
Edoardo Valentini (1934-2006) was known in Abruzzo as the “Lord of the Vines,” and the old-timer who was dedicated to Montepulciano d’Abruzzo made from late-harvest grapes exclusively in exceptional years. In fact, he sold about 90% of the grapes a local co-op (Rosciano) and kept only the best for his own wine. Edoardo  was succeeded by his son Paolo who has taken over the wine making and follows in his father’s footsteps.
Emidio Pepe
The Pepe family has been making wines in Abruzzo since 1899 and 4generations of the family has been dedicated to making the best Montepulciano d'Abruzzo and Trebbiano wines. In 1964 Emidio Pepe, grandson of the company founder, recognized the great qualities of the “Montepulciano d’ Abruzzo” and started selling it bottled as his “Black Gold”. Over the past 20 years his daughters, Daniela and Sofia, and today also his granddaughter Chiara have been working side by side with him amongst the vines and in the cellar. The fermentation takes place in small concrete tanks, without the addition of selected yeasts. The bottles are stacked one above the other and almost 350,000 bottles have been settling for 30/ 40 years in the old underground cellar. The winery is certified organic and biodynamic by IMC for Organic and Agribio Piemonte for Biodynamic

The Wines

While studying Abruzzo I tasted the following wine:

2009 Testarossa Montepulciano d’Abruzzo

This is an opaque red wine, dark purple/black at the core with minimal rim variation and medium+ viscosity. On the nose it is clean with moderate intense aromas of black cherries, black berries, violets, and vanilla with minor notes of licorice, spice and damp earth. On the palate the nose is confirmed, it is dry and soft with moderate tannins, moderate acidity, it has a full round mouth-feel with medium+ body and a moderate length finish. The wine is well balanced, easy-drinking and food friendly. This wine sells for $26.99 at Enoteca Vino Nostro in San Francisco.

[1] Joe Bastianich and David Lynch, Vino Italiano (Crown Publishing, 2005), 280-283.

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