If you are looking for fine Italian wine and food, consider the Abruzzi region of central Italy. You may find a bargain, and I hope that you’ll have fun on this fact-filled wine education tour.
Abruzzi is located on the central eastern part of Italy on the coast of the Adriatic Sea. The area is 2/3 mountains and 1/3 hills. Over time Abruzzi has belonged to the Romans, the Lombards, and the kingdom of Naples. While this area was once very poor, its income is now growing. Abruzzi and Molise were a single region from 1948 to 1965. Its population is 1.275 million.
Agricultural products include grapes, olives, wheat, sugar beets, tobacco, saffron, pigs, and sheep. The Adriatic Sea and inland lakes and streams provide a wide variety of fish and shellfish. If I remember correctly, the first time that I heard of this region was decades ago, when I learned that according to Craig Claiborne, at the time Food Editor of the New York Times, Italy’s best food was found in Abruzzi.
Abruzzi has no large cities. Its administrative center l’Aquila has a population of about 70 thousand. But big cities are hardly a requirement for good wine. Few would ever claim that Italy’s best wines come from Rome, or the surrounding area.
Abruzzi devotes about eighty two thousand acres to grapevines, it ranks 10th among the 20 Italian regions. Its total annual wine production is about 110 million gallons, giving it a 5th place. About 90% of the wine production is red or rosé (not very much rosé), leaving 10% for white. The region produces 3 DOC wines. DOC stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata, which may be translated as Denomination of Controlled Origin, presumably a high-quality wine and 1 DOCG red wine, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Colline Teramane. The G in DOCG stands for Garantita, but there is in fact no guarantee that such wines are truly superior. About 17% of Abruzzi wine carries the DOC or DOCG designation. Abruzzi is home to about two dozen major and secondary grape varieties, a few more white and than red.
Widely grown international white grape varieties include Trebbiano and Chardonnay. Sauvignon Blanc. The best known strictly Italian white variety is Trebbiano d’Abbruzzi, felt by some to be Bombino Bianco.
The best known Italian red variety is Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. The Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC is the most widely exported Italian DOC wine.
Before we reviewing the Abruzzi wine and cheese that we were lucky enough to purchase at a local wine store and a local Italian food store, here are a few suggestions of what to eat with local wines when touring this beautiful region.
Start with a Pizza Rustica, Cinnamon-Scented Pie Stuffed with Proscuitto, Cheese, and Eggs.
Then move on to Polenta sulla Spianatora, Polenta (Cornbread) Topped with Sausage in Spicy Tomato Sauce.
For desert enjoy a Crostata di Ricotta, a Ricotta Tart.
OUR WINE REVIEW POLICY While we have communicated with well over a thousand Italian wine producers and merchants to help prepare these articles, our policy is clear. All wines that we taste and review are purchased at the full retail price.
Abruzzo Illuminati Montepulciano d’Abruzzo “Riparosso” 2004 DOC 13% alcohol about $11.50
The marketing materials state that this wine has hints of an Amarone (a much more expensive wine) or a Ripasso ( a more expensive wine). There are raisings, currants, and tar on the nose whilst the taste profile is ripe, mellow fruit flavors of raspberry jam and ocha. It doesn’t contain a lot of acidity so drink it within a year. Pair it with pizza, burgers, or any meat dish that you tend to eat during the week.
This wine is said to complement pasta, red meats, and savory cheeses.
I found the Riparosso to be somewhat robust, with cherry and plum flavors. I didn’t have the feeling that I was drinking a regular Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, but instead almost a Ripasso, a wine that I prefer. This wine managed to feel full-bodied even with its light tannins. It balanced nicely the tanginess of barbecued eggplant loaded with garlic, and demonstrated notable spiciness when paired with a meat ball and vegetable stew. Its acidity was pleasant. I did not discern all the flavors listed above. For me the dominant flavor was black cherry. The final meat dish that accompanied this wine was a barbecued boneless rib steak with a spicy curry and cumin sauce. The wine seemed to pick up strength to accompany this meat, which by the way, we don’t eat on a regular basis during the week.
I tasted this wine with two related cheeses. Pecorino Toscano is a soft, nutty cheese. Interestingly enough, I found that the wine was no longer robust, it seemed to soften to accompany this mild cheese. In the presence of a Pecorino Fiore Sardo, a balsamic sheep’s milk cheese with a stronger flavor and coarser consistency than its Tuscan cousin, the wine almost magically picked up flavor to meet the challenge.
Final verdict, as you can tell this wine is a definite keeper.
Extra note. Several months ago on a whim I bought a $6 bottle of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. Given the realities of the marketplace, I really doubt that any producer can come up with a decent bottle at that price. At first the wine was terribly acidic. I held out, finished the bottle and the last glass was almost OK. Yes, there are bargains, such as this Riparosso, but few in the $6 range.
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