For centuries the world has celebrated legendary Italian winemaking regions like Piedmont, Barolo, and Veneto. True oenophiles, however, know that this bel paese — beautiful country — has hidden gems that are well worth a trip off the tourist tasting path. Abruzzo, a mountainous coastal region in central Italy along the Adriatic Sea, is one such wine destination.
Located a scenic two-hour drive east from Rome, the region is marked by the soaring Apennines mountain range to the north, which buffers against storms and provides vineyard conditions similar to those of the central Italian wine regions of Tuscany and Marche. In the east, the Adriatic Sea influence yields a mild Mediterranean climate more reminiscent of southern Italian wine destinations like Calabria and Sicily.
One of the oldest wine-growing regions in the world, Abruzzo is known for its dominant varieties, the red Montepulciano grape and the white Trebbiano d’Abruzzo grape, and for nurturing lesser-known varietals like Passerina, Cococciola, and Pecorino. The latter is named not after the eponymous cheese but, rather, its historic tie to local shepherds (pecora means “sheep” in Italian) who were rumored to have noshed on these abundant grapes as they tended to their flocks. Wines made from Pecorino are typically medium in body, providing a floral bouquet. Surprisingly, the wines were somewhat forgotten before a recent revival among Abruzzo’s vintners.
At the forefront of the movement is Casal Thaulero, a winery that fuses ancient practices with modern technologies. Casal Thaulero’s lush vines extend over the hills of Chieti, a terroir that’s ideal for wine cultivation. The vineyards are bordered on one side by the Majella massif and the Gran Sasso, the mightiest of the Apennines, and flanked on the other by the sparkling Adriatic.
Casal Thaulero’s vines date back to 1738 and were lovingly restored in the 1800s by Duke Giovanni Thaulero, considered by many to be the originator of viticulture in Abruzzo. Growing historic varietals and experimenting with avant-garde agricultural techniques, the duke set a precedent of excellence that paved the way for Casal Thaulero to become the first estate in Abruzzo to produce DOC wine and later export Abruzzo’s rich flavors to the world. The estate remains a local treasure, with the duke’s descendants working closely with local growers to select the finest vines and supervising the entire winemaking and aging process from grape to glass.
Casal Thaulero specializes in rich red and crisp white wines. For a bold introduction, try the Borgo Thaulero Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOP 2018 from the Borgo Thaulero label, inspired by the historic borgo (village) that surrounded Casal Thaulero and created the lasting community that continues to nourish the vineyard. Made from the Montepulciano d’Abruzzo grape, the bouquet is packed with aromas of black plum and spice, and on the palate has ripe berries and earthy notes that are tempered by lower acidity and softer tannins. We recommend pairing the wine with seasonal pasta dishes, simmering stews, or roasted dishes.
Another recommended bottle is the Orsetto Oro Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOP 2017 of the Orsetto Oro line, inspired by the iconic Marsican brown bear, the symbol of the Abruzzo National Park. The wine is deeply colored, with notes of sour black cherry and dark fruits. On the palate, it is full-bodied with a round, velvety texture and spicy flavors, which locals enjoy paired with pork and apple dishes.
For a year-round white wine that shows the best of Abruzzo, the Pecorino is a must-try. The Orsetto Oro Passerina Terre di Chieti IGP 2018, has a golden yellow color, with abundant floral and citrus notes, and medium acidity and body. Crudités, light fish dishes, white meats, and pasta dishes would be ideal pairings.
To dive deeper into Abruzzo whites, try the Borgo Thaulero Pecorino IGP 2018, with aromas of white blooms and mineral notes, and crisp acidity that’s the result of the cooling winds off the Alpinini and the coastal breezes of the Adriatic. For a fresh take on a familiar dinner table staple, sample the Borgo Thaulero Pinot Grigio IGP 2018, a delicate and lightly fruity variety with hints of white peach and pineapple. The wine is ideal for aperitivo, or pairs perfectly with seafood, soufflés, or white meats.
Each of these bottles presents the best of this off-the-beaten-path region, which marries centuries of tradition with modern style. Cin cin!
This article is sponsored by Casal Thaulero Winery.