Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Grape Spotlight: Masciarelli Montepulciano d'Abruzzo

Abruzzo is a naturalist's dream "as half of the region's territory is protected through national parks and nature reserves, more than any administrative region on the continent, leading it to be dubbed 'the greenest region in Europe'".  That could be why it has been occupied since the "Neolithic era, with the earliest artifacts dating to beyond 6,500 BC. In the 6th century BC, the Etruscans introduced viticulture into the area which continued with the Romans -- who contributed to much of Abruzzo’s recognizable history.  Even after the fall of Rome, the Lombards, Byzantines, Magyars, and Normans successively imparted some type of influence in Abruzzo.  Throughout these periods, viticulture has been a constant with multi-generation small plots, sometimes less than a few hectares, being passed down through successive generations. 

Abruzzo is located directly east of Rome and bordered by the Molise wine region to the south, the Marche to the north, the Lazio to the west, and the Adriatic to its east.  It is further divided into several sub-regions: Chieti, Pescara, Teramo, and L’Aquila (L’Aquilano) -- with Chieti being the prime winemaking region (75% of vineyards).  Most of Abruzzo is rugged with  65% mountainous with this landscape assisting grape growing by blocking most storms from the west. And to the east, the Adriatic Sea provides a moderating Mediterranean climate for these vineyards; vines that are predominately planted in calcareous clay soils.

The most popular grape varieties in all sub-regions are Montepulciano d'Abruzzo and Trebbiano d'Abruzzo.  This week we will focus on Montepulciano d'Abruzzo and next week Trebbiano d'Abruzzo, both through the wines of Masciarelli.

Montepulciano  is a late-ripening, thick-skinned, deep-colored grape indigenous to Abruzzo. It provides a robustness that is balanced by considerable acidity and noticeable tannins. That profile means wines ranging from firmly structured and willing to age to lighter styles, including rosés with some heft, depending on decisions made in the vineyard and winery. The wines are known for their fruit and spice characters.

The only Abruzzo producer with vineyards in all four provinces (Chieti, Pescara, Teramo, l’Aquila), Masciarelli wines demonstrate the diversity of Abruzzo terroir.  The winery was founded in the early 1980s by Gianna Masciarelli when produced the first vintage of wine from 2.5 hectares of vines he had planted in land owned by his grandfather near the family home in the province of Chieti. Over the next couple decades production increased as more estates were planted and Gianna introduced several innovations to the region. He was the first to introduce the Guyot training system in Abruzzo and use French oak barrels to age Montepulciano d’Abruzzo.  Tragically Gianna died suddenly in 2008 but his wifie of almost 20 years, Marina Cvetić, seamlessly continued the progress towards higher quality and expansion. Today, their eldest daughter Miriam Lee manages the winery with Marina and they focus on keeping all wines estate grown while expanding plantings, transitioning to organic viticulture, and dialing back the use of oak.

The Masciarelli Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC 2020 ($16) is an example of the latter approach. This was the original wine that Gianna Masciarelli first produced back in 1981 and today is the company's best-selling product and the flagship of the Classic Line. The grapes are sourced from several of the estate vineyards in Chieti, Pescara, & Teramo and are fermented and aged in stainless steel. It is a juicy wine, showing dark berries and earthiness and lifted by sufficient acidity and approachable tannins. And appealing everyday wine. 

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