3 May 2012

Express yourself (Abruzzo, Italy – Day One)

One of the things I have noticed on my trip visiting wine regions is that the best wines come from vineyards planted on a slope. There are exceptions to this of course, but these wines are generally not necessarily of elegance, nor do they come from cool climate regions. All of the regions I have visited in Italy so far, including Tuscany and Valpolicella, have steep and/or terraced vineyards where the best fruit tends to come from. In every case the fruit grown in vineyards on valley floors or flat lands provide volume and approachability. What varies of course is the steepness, elevation, exposition and depth of the soils and this in turn reacts with the particular variety and micro-climates. The fascinating thing about Italy which I didn’t realise is that the entire length of the mainland has a mountain range through it, known as the Appenino Mountains. These mountains are quite wild and imposing between Lazio and Abruzzo/Le Marche, a fact I discovered quite well when I drove from the Adriatic Coast to Rome and back for the weekend. Much like the Great Dividing Range up the east coast of Australia, or the Rockies/Andes Mountains that travels the entire west coast of the Americas, this allows viticulture to be quite diverse and high quality along them. Even in Meditteranean climates like in Abruzzo, you can easily produce red and white wines of elegance and structure, but plenty of fruit and tannin. How one expresses the climate, soils and native varieties is ultimately up to the producer, as I was to discover on my first day in the Abruzzo region.

Me in the 11th century tower on the Torre Raone estate in Abruzzo

A winery that had come recommended by a previous host, but that few had heard of when I mentioned it, was Tenuta Torre Raone. The area itself is very old, and the tower located on the hill of the vineyard dates back to the 11th Century when it was erected by the Raone of Poliziano, a descendant of Tancred Duke of Normady. Back then the Normans had come to the aide of the people in liberating them from the Byzantines. The winery on the other hand is quite new, having been established in 1997 by Luciano Di Tizio, whose family still grow fruit in another part of Abruzzo to the north, but sell it to the local cooperative. When he bought the 35 hectare property, there were some vineyards already planted, but he made the decision to boost this to 30 hectares in total. The important decision he made apart from the focus on the montepulciano grape, was to establish the agriculture in organics. As the vineyard is located half-way between the mountains and the sea, it is a perfect location for the indigenous montepulciano, trebbiano and pecorino grapes. The winery produces about 75,000 bottles per year, along with olive oil coming from two hectares of trees. It is a very humble estate, selling most of its wine overseas through strong partners in many markets in Europe. In the winery oak is only used for the red wines, and new oak only for the top montepulciano wine.

Montepulciano vine on the Torre Raone estate
The first wine I tasted was the Lucanto Trebbiano d’Abruzzo 2010, which expressed a clean juicy floral and fruit sweet nose with some honey and citrus notes. On the palate it maintained an approachable freshness of fruit, but also had plenty of balance, texture and minerality. The Raone Bianco 2010 is a blend of pecorino, pinot grigio, and a variety called incrocio manzoni, a cross of riesling and pinot bianco from Friuli. The fruit notes for this wine were in the zesty citrus realm of oranges and lime, coupling with some floral minerality and depth, and whilst very vibrant and crisp had little more to offer than a good aromatic white wine. The Pecorino Colline Pescaresi 2009 showed lovely grapefruit and honeysuckle notes on the nose, introducing subtle quince, grass and ripe stone fruit notes on the palate, with lots of depth, texture and warmth. To see the character of incrocio manzoni I tasted the Raone Bianco 2008 made entirely from this variety. The style of the two wines couldn’t have been more different, as the 2008 was made like a white burgundy, highlighting the richness, weight and depth of the wine with plenty of toasty oxidative malolactic elements. The Lucanto Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2010 followed, very aromatic and intense with black olives, red currants, dried fowl and some rustic notes, great balance and weight with approachability and texture. The San Zopito Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2007 showed the benefit old vines have on the variety and site, but unfortunately the excessive amount of oak manipulation gave the wine too much sweet vanilla and caramel, and gave the wine too much breadth of tannins and fruit.

Steep trebbiano vines on the Torre Raone estate
Gianni Masciarelli is considered to be one of the most important modern names in Abruzzo wine. Getting his start producing wines out of the Casa Gemma house just outside of San Martino sulla Marrucina, initially he was purchasing wine from the social cantina. Not wanting to do anything by halves, when he decided to buy land to produce grapes of his own, he purchased 400 hectares. This commitment would be a hallmark of the next several decades, as he and his Serbian wife Marina Cvetic took the Masciarelli brand and made it synonymous with montepulciano and Abruzzo. In the 90s he completed a multi-level winemaking facility to produce the now 2.5 million bottles of wine, and also purchased the historic Castello di Semivicoli which is now used for one of the best hotels in the region. A humble man, he named the original house after his mother, one range of wines after his wife, and another after the castle. The Masciarelli name has further importance for wine in Italy, as they distribute not only their own wines but those of other great domestic and imported producers, some of which I have visited on my journey. Sadly Gianni passed away three years ago, suffering a stroke in his early fifties. The legacy he left behind is palpable in his family and employees who continue the business in his name. I would be interested to determine what the style of wines was like whilst he was still alive, and if they have or haven’t changed since his passing, for as you will see, in my opinion the fruit coming from the sustainably grown vineyards is exceptional, but the expression in the winery is not.

The famed Masciarelli Villa Gemma
The wines in general are quite simple, having good fruit and freshness, some brightness and texture, but little to no character or depth. The highlight of the whites was undoubtedly the Castello di Semivicoli Trebbiano d’Abruzzo 2008, which combined complex seashell saltiness and texture with some elegant stone fruit depth and viscosity. The Villa Gemma Cerasuolo is a traditional way of producing montepulciano, whereby the must is cold soaked for about 24 hours then pressed off, which gives a dark rose colour to the wine. The 2011 showed candied fruit sweetness of strawberries, cherries and cream, plenty of lively acidity and textured tannins, but was again quite simple. The red wines suffered a problem of being too modern, as they either included ‘international’ varieties like cabernet sauvignon and merlot, or they were too heavily macerated, not to mention that all the red wines are matured to different levels in new oak barrels. The best I could say of the Marina Cvetic Montepulciano d’Abruzzo was that the fruit was astonishingly good and showed great authenticity, but it was drenched in toasty sweet oak tannins. The Iskra Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2004 has the benefit of several more years of bottle age, but couldn’t escape the overuse of oak, which in my opinion won’t help the wine improve in the cellar. The final wine was the Villa Gemma Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2005, which after 30+ days of maceration on skins spends the next four years in a variety of old and new oak treatments. The over maceration gave the aromatics a volatile acidity nature, and the concentration of fruit combining with the oak makes it a very complex, mature and intense wine, that will probably benefit with more age. I just wish they would take my philosophy that less is more, and there is great elegance in simplicity. I’m probably generalising too much though, something that I despise when it comes to wine.

This pretty much sums up the red wines at Masciarelli
Click here to see more photos from Day One in Abruzzo, Italy. Tune in for the next post on my second day in the Abruzzo region.

No comments:

Post a Comment