Abruzzo is a region on the east (Adriatic) coast of central Italy, situated halfway up the 'boot’. Its immediate neighbors are Marche to the north, Lazio to the west and south-west and Molise to the south-east.
Winemaking traditions in Abruzzo date back to the sixth century B.C. thanks to the Etruscans, who played a major role in introducing viniculture to the area. At that time Abruzzo’s vineyards were generally focused around the Peligna valley in the province of L’Aquila. However, there is evidence that vine growing goes back as far as the fourth century B.C., when a sweet, Moscato-style grape called Apianae was grown. It is also believed that when Hannibal made his epic journey over the Alps, his soldiers were given Abruzzo wine from Teramo (historically known as Pretuzi).
© Frances Reeve
Unfortunately, viniculture was sidelined for many centuries as the area’s population went into decline. The last 40-50 years have seen a renaissance in winemaking through the endeavors of co-operative wineries concentrated in the Chieti province. Historically a poor area, Abruzzo is now flourishing and continually gaining economic ground. The main importers of Abruzzo wine are Germany, the USA and Canada, with increasing purchases coming from the UK, Sweden, Denmark and Norway.
With the revival in viniculture came bulk wine, which dominated the region for a considerable period. However the region has now revamped its image, gradually moving towards producing more quality-driven wines, with an increase in boutique wineries. One of the pioneers of this style is Gianni Masciarelli, part of a new generation of oenologists, wine experts and entrepreneurs who are the driving force behind the marked improvement in the quality of Abruzzo wines.
Abruzzo has at least 89,000 acres (36,000ha) of land planted to vines, with an annual production of more than 92,000 gallons (3.5 million hL). Nonetheless, in terms of quantitative wine production it remains Italy’s fifth-leading wine region after Sicily (Sicilia), Puglia (Apulia), Veneto and Emilia-Romagna.
The geographical makeup of Abruzzo is quite remarkable. A rugged, mountainous region with a lengthy coastline, its lush, green landscape is scattered with national parks and forests. Abruzzo is ideally situated between the Adriatic sea to the east, and the Apennines and Maiella mountain ranges to the west – including Gran Sasso, one of Italy's highest peaks at more than 9500ft (2895m).
It is not surprising that Abruzzo provides a perfect haven for grape growing. Vines flourish thanks to the terroir, the abundance of sunshine, the generous rainfall and a variable climate: warm and dry on the coast and more continental (hot in summer and cold in winter) inland. Furthermore, the high altitudes see dramatic diurnal temperature variations. When combined with cool mountain air currents, they moderate the temperatures in the vineyards situated on the slopes, providing a perfect microclimate for the vines. The most favorable growing conditions are found in the low hills of Teramo, the Colline Teramane.
The majority of vineyards are found in the hilly areas, 75% of which are in the Chieti province and the remainder situated in Pecara, Teramo and L’Aquila. Typical Abruzzo viticulture allows for pergolas, where the vines are trained upwards towards narrow arbors. This style accounts for approximately 80% of the vines, while the rest are new and planted in rows.
Abruzzo is home to one DOCG – Montepulciano d'Abruzzo Colline Teramane – and three DOCs: the red and Cerasuolo Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and the white Trebbiano d’Abruzzo are the most noteable, followed by the lesser-known Controguerra. The star grape varieties of the area are the native red Montepulciano and white Trebbiano, with minor roles being played by a few international varieties such as Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, and natives such as Sangiovese, Passerina, Pecorino and Cococciola. The usual maturation process for Abruzzo wine is in oak. However, the Montepulciano Cerasuolo is aged in stainless steel.