Discovering wines in Abruzzo
They are among the least known of Italian wines, but it won’t be long before the Cerasuolo and Pecorino get the attention they deserve
It has been raining in the mountains. The vineyards in the valley are lush, with scattered red poppies. I’m in one of the greenest parts of Italy, in Abruzzo, to the East of Rome; a dramatic landscape bounded by the Gran Sasso d’Italia mountains and the Adriatic Sea. Given its stunning beauty, it is surprising that Abruzzo is yet to be discovered by the swathes of tourists who overrun Tuscany, Umbria and Sicily every year. Fewer tourists also explain why the wines from the region are among the least known of Italian varietals.
Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, a somewhat tannic red, a DOC (Denomination of Controlled Origin, indicative of quality) of 50 years standing and one of the largest productions by volume in Italy, is the best known from Abruzzo. As you travel through this beautiful region, you realise there is a surprising diversity to the wines made here that the outside world knows little about. But when I visit this summer, I find concerted activity is underway to change this.
A cherry rosé
Abruzzo’s wine consortium, Consorzio di Tutela dei Vini d’Abruzzo, a non-profit organisation made up of 400 members comprising local growers, winemakers and bottlers, is trying to put the spotlight on some of the excellent, undiscovered wines made from old, indigenous grape varieties. Davide Acerra, an office-bearer of the consorzio introduces me to the stunning Cerasuolo, the rosé from the region that has since become some of my favourites. The Cerasuolo d’ Abruzzo, to give it its proper title, is the newest DOC wine, the designation created in 2010, though winemakers have been making it traditionally for much longer. “Different winemakers are making it in different styles these days, but it should typically be cherry-coloured, and fruity on the nose, though dry,” Acerra tells me.
Made from the same Montepulciano grapes as the red, the rosé is a more vibrant, less tannic wine, with the ideal bright colour (cerasuolo in Italian means cherries), and a fruitier, zingier character.
What makes this wine distinct from other cloyingly sweet rosés around the world is its high acidity — the sugar is between 5.5-6 g/l, which makes for a pleasurable dry wine.
The other big discovery for me is the white Pecorino. A high-on-acidity wine, it is reminiscent of the Chablis — though it helps that you can sip it at much lower price points! It shares its name with the sheep cheese made in many parts of Italy, with a sharp taste and a hard texture.
In Abruzzo, both the cheese and the wine have great local significance, since shepherds have been intrinsic to the life and culture of the region since Roman times. The movement of the sheep in winters from the mountains to the sea — separated by just 40 kilometres — is a cycle that is celebrated through stories and foods such as the arrosticini (skewered cubes of sheep, grilled). One such story is that the sheep ate only the leaves of one type of grape, which was subsequently named pecorino, or “little sheep”.
The grape is grown all over Italy, but it expresses itself distinctly according to the terroir. If in other regions, somewhat sweeter styles may be produced, in Abruzzo, Pecorino wines are dry, light, with a depth of texture and hints of fruit and herbs.
At Tenuta i Fauri, owned by the di Luigi family, for instance, young winemakers Luigi and his sister Valentina — pianists as well as winemakers — make unique wines that are precise and express the individuality of their 35-acre vineyards. Their pecorino has hints of apple and mint. Valentina tells me that she has gone back to the traditional way of winemaking followed by her grandfather, using cement tanks, to retain the terroir.
Inside the winery, she has set a long table with the fruit that grows on her land — sweet cherries, plump strawberries, fresh green peas. There’s olive oil from the estate, bread freshly baked, and pecorino cheese made locally. We taste the wines that have all these notes too and make a fine apperitivo that evening.