Allegrini 2018

The Abruzzo of wine, between leadership in large-scale distribution and growing quality

Between great production that takes the brand to the world, and artisans conquering the heights. Ahead of the reorganization of the denomination

Abruzzo has always been a land of wine and sheep farming. And if the latest most famous and popular gastronomic expression is sheep arrosticini, speaking of wine the symbol is undoubtedly Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. A wine that steadily plays for the podium of the best sellers in the Italian large-scale retail trade with standard bearers such as Chianti and Lambrusco, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, the most famous of Abruzzo wines, was also the wine of emigrants who, particularly in the first part of the 20th century, brought their lives and their knowledge and food customs mainly to the United States, but also to Canada and beyond. And it is no coincidence that today the U.S. and Canada, after neighboring Germany, are the main foreign markets for Abruzzo wine, which, when exported in 2021, moved more than 203 million euros (up +8 % compared to 2020). With Abruzzo’s producers, who united in the Consortium Vini d’Abruzzo, are working to increase the quality and typicality of a production that, overall, is made up of 3.8 million hectoliters per year, 1 million of which are Designation of Origin wines. And the overwhelming majority of this million is contributed by Montepulciano d’Abruzzo itself, with 800,000 hectoliters. While 192. 000 come from the region’s white gem, that is, that Trebbiano d’Abruzzo that has been brought into the “Olympus” of the world’s great whites by such griffes as Valentini or Masciarelli, some of the most famous names in Abruzzo wine, together with other absolutely prestigious realities such as Zaccagnini or Emidio Pepe, who have brought prestige to Abruzzo over the years, also investing in the link between wine and culture, but also the great cooperative wineries Codice Citra and Cantina Tollo and large private realities such as Fantini Vini, with their labels on shelves all over the world. Explaining to WineNews how to keep Abruzzo’s image in balance as a land of wines listed by international critics and featured in the world’s greatest restaurants, but also among the best-selling in mass distribution, and outlining the way to grow further, in the future, is Valentino Di Campli, president of the Consorzio Vini d’Abruzzo, in the “Abruzzo Wine Experience”.
“Abruzzo is healthy, we have grown overcoming the pandemic, especially with Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, but also with Pecorino and Passerina, and 2022 has also started well for Trebbiano d’Abruzzo, which celebrates 50 years of DOC this year, but suffers from having a name that other wines have that are not as appreciated as ours. The year, however, has started well, and we are delighted. And, in the last 3 years, starting in 2018, we have been working on a reorganization of the specifications that would make clear on the label the narrative of the diversity of Abruzzo, an area vocated from the coast to the mountains, to the production of wines that are very different, even if they come from the same grape varieties. The ability to penetrate through the gdo has meant that our wines are known all over the world. At the same time, the ability of some has made the critics of the world appreciate our great winemakers, but also the cooperatives, which have grown in quality: it is the “Abruzzo model” that we want to make more evident in a specification that better defines the scale of values, then declined on the territories, from the largest ones to the municipalities, to the vineyards. This is the work that we should do more and more in the future, and continue, including with actions such as “Abruzzo Wine Experience” to raise awareness of producers, scenic, cultural and wine-related beauties, that is, our territory”.
For an Abruzzo wine that, therefore, continues to travel on the double track of producing large numbers, for the large scale distribution, alongside excellence. As Chiara Clavolich, head of Clavolich, one of the emerging, albeit historic, wineries in Abruzzo wine, points out: “the Abruzzo double-track is something producers have been dealing with for a lifetime, I started in the winery in 2004, and it was already like that. Already in the market there were individuals like Valentini, who have always worked on quality and higher level, but also Masciarelli, for example. In the last 15-20 years the market has become more and more aware, the consumer knows that there is a Montepulciano d’Abruzzo that goes from a basic level to a courtly level. Now we are working well, the Consortium is working on amending the specifications to talk, meanwhile, about the difference between products that are made and bottled 100 percent in Abruzzo, and those that are not, and are bottled outside the region. This is a distinction that we never had until now, and now it will begin to be in reach to the consumer with the mention “Superiore” on the label. And this, in the future, will also serve to enhance micro-territories and crus, which will make Abruzzo’s excellence known”.
A land, Abruzzo, with a millenary culture, and where even wine is “poetry in a bottle”. With the thought that, almost of obligation, runs to Gabriele D’Annunzio, among the greatest poets of all time, who dedicated some of the most beautiful verses to the wine of his homeland, Abruzzo precisely, often mixed with eros, as in “The Gift of Dionysus”, for example. “... E de ’l profumo agreste come de ’l calor d’un vino si nutrivano i sogni dilettosi ...”, D’Annunzio writes again. But, above all, for the multifaceted and eccentric Vate, precisely Montepulciano d’Abruzzo was above all the “wine of memory”, capable of revealing in a relationship more literary than real, an unseen side of the poet, who was as strict in his diet, which he said was that “proper of the Abruzzese shepherds”, as he was a teetotaler, but a profound connoisseur and connoisseur of the most famous wines of his time, and of the culinary traditions and simple but tasty products of his land, recalled with nostalgia many times in his letters and works from his voluntary exile at the Vittoriale, because they were linked to the most intimate memories of his family and his mother, ruler of the kitchen. From fish brodetto to Christmas eel, with which Montepulciano was uncorked at D’Annunzio’s home, of course.
A lyrical synthesis of what Abruzzo wine is still today: a land harsh and sweet, rough and gentle, shy and generous at the same time, where the vineyard has been present since Roman times, with the first certain evidence of the presence of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo dating back to the 18th century, for a vine that covers more than 17,000 hectares of vineyard, accompanied by the 14 000 of Trebbiano, 80 percent of which are still raised with the Abruzzese Pergola, another distinctive feature of a territory that, also through a profound reorganization of its production pyramid, with a single Igp, Terre d’Abruzzo, in place of the 8 that existed until now, with the introduction of the mention “Superiore” for regional PDOs such as Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Trebbiano d’Abruzzo, Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo, Pecorino d’Abruzzo, Passerina d’Abruzzo, Cococciola d’Abruzzo and Montonico d’Abruzzo wines.
Expressions of a wine-producing Abruzzo that, according to wine critic Veronika Crecelius, Italian signature of the German magazine “Weinwirtschaft”, “right now has an offer of wines for all markets and for all needs, it is a Region that can satisfy many different consumers.
We are at a beautiful level for white wines, developed a lot in recent years, with a lot of experimentation in the vineyard and cellar, with courage in some decisions, even expensive, but then appreciated in the market. Pecorino works, Trebbiano is much more long-lived than before, we know how to treat in the vineyard. There is Cerasuolo, which I think can be the “next big thing”, because it is a great wine that can be drunk throughout the meal. There is the issue of the color, which is very dark, you have a hard time placing it among rosés, but it should not be distorted, it can be an alternative, for example, for those who want to drink red wines even in summer, but it is a complex wine, which needs to be explained to the market. Then there is Montepulciano, which needs to become more modern, elegant, agile, and maybe the generational change that there is in many wineries will help. And then, in Abruzzo, there are many good organic wines, without defects, capable of evolving, and this also represents a great opportunity”.
For an Abruzzo of wine, then, that is performing well in this first part of 2022, and looks to have all the makings of a future. A future that “is Cerasuolo, a wine that characterizes us, that runs through our veins and that we have to count on, because we only make it here”, explains Giulia Cataldi Madonna, at the helm of the famous Cataldi Madonna, who adds, “the market is doing very well, Covid paradoxically has helped our wines, there has been a great rebound, and we drink a lot of Cerasuolo here in Abruzzo, but also abroad”. “The future is rosy”, adds Alessandro Nicodemi of the historic Nicodemi winery, “I say this because, in recent years, both family farms and social wineries, which account for 80 percent of the critical mass here, have reached very high levels of quality. Our Montepulciano d'Abruzzo has no sales problems. The problem, if anything, is the average price, which is still very low and does not reflect the quality of the wine: the wine is going around, but we still don't know how to establish the value of the bottles. We are first in gdo, but we are also present in the biggest restaurants in the world, but the peaks of excellence are 10-15% of production. For the rest of the production, still, the prices are too low, if we look at a parameter like gross saleable production, it is still 30-40% less than in other regions”. “Quality is growing across the board”, adds Caterina Cornacchia from Barone Cornacchia, “as is attention to the region, also thanks to the promotional work done by the Consortium. There is the rediscovery of a region that until now has remained somewhat in the shadows, and instead has so much quality, things to tell and experiences to live. For the future, we must focus on authenticity, which means rediscovering one’s history and rediscovering what one has, starting with one’s own vines, organic viticulture, spontaneous fermentations, adding as little as possible and enhancing what the grapes have to give us”. “Montepulciano d’Abruzzo”, adds Fausto Albanesi of the Torre dei Beati winery, “everyone knows it, especially in the segment of convenience, of great value for money, both in Italy and abroad. The challenge is to enhance our excellences, which exist and are many. It is necessary, however, that the effort to reform the specifications take into account these excellences and also provide, as in part it is, differentiation on a geographical scale. A specification that provides for only one wine has less appeal to an increasingly evolved consumer than one that takes into account the areas of production. Having a single DOC such as Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, as it has been until now, meant uniting under the same name products from 2 euros and 150 euros a bottle, and this becomes difficult to tell. It is important to have the strength to value differences that exist and that the consumer wants to know, there is great interest in Abruzzo, which is beautiful, amazing, but we have to tell the story in a real way: what they make in Teramano is not what is made in Loreto Aprutino, for example. Wine is no longer a commodity, but we drink it to appreciate it, to understand the differences that each territory expresses. This is an important key to addressing markets in the future”.
With Abruzzo, toponym and brand, which, however, always recurs, consistently, in the larger Denominations and in the niche ones, to affirm the identity of the wines of an intimate Region, as D’Annunzio described it, warm but reserved, far from mass tourism and vocated to the slow and "of silence" in its perched villages extraordinarily rich in stories, myths and legends, and in its incredibly biodiverse nature, which from the peaks of the Gran Sasso d’Italia and Majella massifs to the Costa dei trabocchi, compared by the Vate to “colossal spiders” and described in the tragedy “The Triumph of Death” as "machines that seemed to live a life of their own," plunges into the Adriatic Sea and opens up to the world. And from that sea, a land of shepherds, but also of fishermen, it knows how to draw a multifaceted cuisine, which is expressed in another peculiarity as the trabucchi, as explained by Francesco d’Angelo, chef of the restaurant “Essenza - Cucina di Mare” in San Vito Chietino, on the Trabocchi Coast. “Our cuisine in Abruzzo, traditionally, is purely land-based, more meat and vegetables. Then we came up with fish but not everywhere. The trabucchi themselves, which are a peculiarity, were from peasants who feared the sea, and they had built these fishing machines. And the fish brought back home and given to the wives to cook then mixed with the flavors of the land, with vegetables, and so, for example, brodetto was born, which has a different recipe in every town on the coast”. Abruzzo, in short, is pure poetry.

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