Erik Neilson on February 18, 2017 0 Comments When it comes to countries that are well-known as being some of the world’s top wine production regions, Italy will find itself on almost any modern list. The fact is, most people are familiar with the wines of Northern Italy, which are omnipresent on menus at Italian restaurants and tend to take up quite a bit of shelf space at even the best wine shops. The wines of Northern Italy are certainly impressive and can take any meal to the next level, but there are many other regions of Italy that deserve highlighting — Abruzzo being one of the most impressive of the bunch. Regional Characteristics Located in Central Italy, Abruzzo is a mountainous region bordering the Adriatic Sea. Separated from the Roman-influenced wines of Tuscany by vast mountain ridges, Abruzzo is very much its own place when it comes to wine production and has a rich history of viticulture. Today, the region is responsible for producing upwards of 42 million cases annually, making it the fifth most productive wine region in the country. While only 21% of these wines are made under DOC designation, the famed Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is perhaps the most famous and is quite distinct from the Sangiovese that typically is utilized in Tuscan Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. Abruzzo is made up of four different provinces, each of which is responsible for wine production. The bulk of this production, however, occurs in Chieti, the fifth-largest wine production province in Italy. To the north are Pescara and Teramo, two provinces known for some of the finest wine in Italy, let alone Abruzzo. Rosé wine is produced in the western province of L’Aquila, as is a wine called Cerasuolo, which makes use of the region’s Montepulciano grape. The Influence of Climate and Terroir There are a number of things that set Abruzzo apart from other wine producing regions found in Italy, with the area’s climate and geography doing quite a bit of the legwork. Corno Grande on the western edge of the Apennines serves as being the highest point on Italy’s mainland. As a result, the mountains surrounding Abruzzo play a huge role in keeping rainstorms and inclement weather from the west at bay, which has an immensely positive effect on the grapes grown in this area. Storms do tend to roll in from the east, however, bringing large amounts of rainfall to the vineyards at times. The late 1990s was a particularly troublesome period of time for wineries in Abruzzo, as the vines during this time were damaged from the heavy rains. Terroir is a major element in the enjoyment and production of wine, and Abruzzo is no exception to the rule. Warm daytime temperatures combine with cool evening winds to provide the perfect environment for grapes to thrive. So long as the rainfall isn’t overbearing, it will also help to produce healthy, flavor-packed grapes that make themselves very apparent as being from the area and nowhere else. Grapes of Abruzzo One interesting thing to note about Abruzzo that sets it apart from many other wine regions of the world is that the area is known primarily for the production of one main grape: Montepulciano. Other grapes are grown and wines bottled in parts of Abruzzo, but Montepulciano makes up the vast majority of production. The fifth most planted grape varietal in all of Italy, Montepulciano is widely exported (especially to America) and enjoyed for its easy-drinking qualities and ability to pair with practically any type of food. Wines produced with the Montepulciano grape can vary, but they tend to be quite dark in color, exquisitely tannic and low in acid. These characteristics make Montepulciano d’Abruzzo an excellent wine for aging, although it typically doesn’t require extra time to be plenty drinkable. Montepulciano is a unique grape in that it can also be used to create Rosé wine, which happens primarily in the province of L’Aquila. The wine — known as Cerasuolo — is deep cherry pink in color due to the pigment of the Montepulciano grape, and many people refer to them as being more “full” and lush than traditional Rosés. Notes of cinnamon, orange peel and strawberry dominate Rosé made with Montepulciano, and while not always easy to find stateside, there are bottles available if you look hard enough. While reds may dominate Abruzzo, there’s also an important place for white wines. A number of grapes are used to produce whites in Abruzzo, but Trebbiano d’Abruzzo and Trebbiano Toscano lead the way. Highly floral and featuring low levels of acidity, these wines are often aged in oak and blended with Chardonnay, resulting in a creamy texture and flavors reminiscent of peach and pear. Some Abruzzi whites can even be intensely nutty, making them ideal for pairing with certain dishes from the region. Bottles to Seek Out There are plenty of great wines available in North America that are produced in Abruzzo, but many people don’t know where to start. Here are a few tried and tested bottles, all of which can stand on their own as unique, powerful wines. We’ll focus specifically on Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, which is much easier to find in America than any other grape from the area. Due Maestà Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Hovering around $50, this is not exactly a budget-friendly bottle, but certainly one of the best examples of the Montepulciano grape you’ll find stateside. Fruity and just a tad sweet, laden with flavors of cherries, plums and other stone fruit. It may be a bit expensive, but few wines this special make it overseas from Italy. Annona Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2012 Slightly less expensive is this wonderful Montepulciano d’Abruzzo from Annona. The 2012 vintage showcases flavors of cherry pits, dried rose petals and subtle herbal notes. Soft and silky, it’s an excellent wine for pairing with any main course that could use an uptick in the fruit department. Valentini Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2006 There is perhaps no bottle of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo that can measure up to the 2006 vintage of Valentini. An exorbitant expense by anyone’s count, this bottle delivers everything you might expect from the grape — earthy, wet cherry and herbs, with slight mushroom and berry qualities that come out as the wine breathes. A perfect expression of the vine if there ever was one. Abruzzo is truly one of the world’s most interesting wine regions, and until recently, it’s been a well-kept secret. Today, wines from the region are available everywhere, so be sure to taste as many examples as possible to gain a true understanding of the nature of these gorgeous wines.