Grapevine: Admiring the alternatives
Abruzzo rarely gets mentioned among the great Italian wine regions, but it is one of the oldest wine growing regions in the world and having an iconic wine such as Barolo or Brunello shouldn’t be the only metric for a great region.
Abruzzo offers some of the best value wines in the world and that should be of equal merit given we can’t all drink our most treasured bottles every day. Protected by a mountain range to the north, cooled by the breezes off the Adriatic to the east and helped along by a Mediterranean climate allows for great consistency in the wines from year to year producing wines that reach enough ripeness to be full and generous while kept fresh and elegant as they retain plenty of acidity. Two grapes worth seeking out for everyday drinking include the slightly more well-known Montepulciano and the lesser-known but equally great value Pecorino.
Montepulciano is still considered an alternative variety in Australia, but in its home of Italy it is the second most planted grape and found on every store shelf or restaurant wine list. Not to be confused with the town of Montepulciano in Tuscany, the grape Montepulciano tends to be at its best in Abruzzo and Marche on the eastern coast of Italy.
Montepulciano is a pretty vigorous variety, but it can be a little temperamental and deciding when to pick it is crucial, where other high yielding varieties like Merlot may be a little more forgiving. Find the right place to grow it, restrain the yields a little and you have wines that offer some character, food friendliness and bold fruit flavours at relatively low prices.
Pecorino nearly disappeared over the second half of the 20th century as plantings declined by 90 per cent. Luckily, the movement in many European regions towards re-invigorating native grape varieties turned things around and plantings have been growing since the turn of the century. It’s most comfortable on the Adriatic coast in Abruzzo where the maritime influence, cooling winds and elevation help to balance the development of the grapes; naturally high in sugar it needs the cooling elements to retain acidity.
As the variety typically has both high acid and sugar, to taste you will find a bracing acidity that underpins a wine of medium-full body and quite rich texture thanks to the higher alcohol levels. The breadth and complexity of flavours can often outdo similarly priced examples from common varieties like Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio/Gris – there is typically floral, fresh herb, citrus and stone fruit along with the impression of “minerality”. In simple terms, you have a wine full of fleshy fruit, rich texture, ample body that is kept fresh and lively by the minerally acidity.
Barone Valforte Pecorino – $22
As an entry-level example of the grape, this is produced from fruit grown in the IGP of Colli Aprutni which is closer to the coast than the best areas but its elevation and northerly aspect help to retain acidity. Subtly floral and stone fruit driven aromas continue on to the palate. The flavours are ripe and fleshy whilst the acidity is quite bracing and leaves a crisp refreshing finish.