Study Guide for Our Abruzzo Wines Class

All You Need to Taste Live With Me and Bob Paulinski MW on October 8, 2023

View of Abruzzo vineyards with Bob Paulinksi MW and Kevin Day
9 min read

With the Adriatic Sea on one side and the towering Apennine Mountains on the other, the Italian region of Abruzzo is undeniably blessed by nature. This past June, I joined an international conference on Abruzzo wines near the city of Pescara. Every day I would look forward to the bus rides because of the scenery, and for the chance to sit next to a Master of Wine who was also on the trip.

Bob Paulinski MW has quickly developed a substantial following on his new YouTube channel where he produces some of the best wine-education content on the internet. (I’ll be curating some of these videos on a special section of Opening a Bottle soon). Whether it was to pick his brain on the wine industry or discuss the wines we’d just tasted — or, at the end of a long day, simply crack each other up with our favorite moments from The Office — I thoroughly enjoyed Bob’s company. He has an exceptional palate, and a keen ability to focus in on exactly what’s going on in the glass, and communicate it in clear, relatable terms.

On Sunday, October 8, 2023, we hosted a class on the Wines of Abruzzo, which paying subscribers can access below.

Watch the video

What follows is a buyers guide to the four most important wines of the region. Use to aid your shopping and wine buying, and pair them with the class for the ultimate in-depth look at this compelling wine region.

Why Abruzzo?

Abruzzo is one of the most well-priced wine regions in all of Europe. A quality renaissance over the last decade has seen the region stand on its own two feet with pride. Best known for its red wines, I think it should also be seen as producing Italy’s most consistently compelling and dynamic rosé. Bob will go to bat for Pecorino as its signature white — a wine that really caught his attention over the four-day event. There is a lot to cover, and as always, I have the photos to take you there.

What follows are the Zoom credentials for the live class as well as a guide to Abruzzo wines for our subscribers. Use it to procure wines for the class, or refer to afterward as a general guide to help you shop.

If you’d like to taste with us during the class, I would recommend up to three wines:

  • A white (either Trebbiano d’Abruzzo or Pecorino Abruzzo)
  • A rosé (Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo)
  • And/or a red (Montepulciano d’Abruzzo).

Filled with my photographs, custom maps and consumer-friendly insights from a Master of Wine (did I mention that?), this high-end presentation is one you won’t want to miss if you love high-quality wines at a great price. If you can’t attend the live class, you can watch it within 72 hours when I post the video to the subscriber-only wine class archive.

Buyer’s Cheat Sheet to Abruzzo Wine

Abruzzo is easy to overlook if you are a tourist in Italy. From Rome, it is a two-hour drive over the towering Apennine Mountains to the coastal city of Pescara. You don’t exactly pass through Abruzzo unless you are driving along that coastline from Marche to Molise, and it’s lone UNESCO World Heritage site is a remote beech tree forest in the south whose designation is shared with 18 other countries that have a similar stand of the ancient tree. That’s not to say Abruzzo lacks cultural or historical attractions, its just that they’re not on the marquee of the Italian tourism board.

What Abruzzo does have is a wild landscape. The rugged and imposing Gran Sasso (9,554 feet) was still holding on to snow when I visited in early June. Meanwhile, the placid Adriatic Sea looks as though you could swim miles in it without hitting a wave. And in between, a series of verdant hills support olive trees, orchards, vegetable farms, pastureland and vineyards.

This last attribute is key: many of the wineries in Abruzzo practice polyculture, the cultivation or raising of multiple agricultural products. We’ll cover why that’s important to wine lovers in the class, but I will say this: my most prized souvenir from the trip was a bottle of Emidio Pepe extra virgin olive oil.

Abruzzo’s wine industry has been clamoring for respect for some time. Like many of the regions in southern Italy, Abruzzo’s ability to produce oceans of wine kept the industry in a bulk bin for decades. But things are changing. Multi-generational farms are estate bottling rather than selling their wine away in tanker trucks, and with their family name on the label, they’re putting more effort into quality.

Simultaneously, research on the region’s key grapes — particularly Montepulciano — has identified how best to handle them in vineyard and cellar. And lastly, Abruzzo has tapped into an Italy-wide movement to celebrate individual terroir expressions of what’s local and unique.

What is local and unique are the following four grape varieties, should you choose to taste with Bob and I for this class.

Pecorino Abruzzo DOC

In Italian, the word for sheep is pecora, which has given us not only the famous sheep’s milk cheese but this indigenous, pale-colored, white-wine grape variety. It is believed to have originated in the mountains of neighboring Marche alongside sheep pastures, and with a high degree of confidence, ampelographers suspect it originated as a wild grape that was domesticated.

Pecorino pops on the palate. Think of the context in which you would reach for Sauvignon Blanc, and that’s the space Pecorino plays in, with perhaps a tad more richness to its profile. Bob was very impressed by the Pecorino Abruzzo wines we tasted, noting how complex they were for the price. I agree, and I think for this tasting, if you have to choose between Pecorino or Trebbiano, go with the former.

Abruzzo has a sprawling DOC appellation to cover its non-Montepulciano, non-Trebbiano varietal wines — the Abruzzo DOC — which Pecorino fits into.

Trebbiano d’Abruzzo DOC

Trebbiano Abruzzese is a white wine grape, and a fairly rare one at that, which can yield a wine that is capable of impressive complexity and pitch-perfect texture (imagine a Grand Cru Chablis on an Italian beach vacation, and you get the idea).

Trebbiano d’Abruzzo is DOC appellation covering a wine made from Trebbiano Abruzzese, but it can also include (and usually does) other grape varieties that look like Trebbiano Abruzzese — Bambino Bianco and Trebbiano Toscana being just two of the more common mimics. The devil is often in the genetic details, and at this point, the laws require that 85% of the wine needs to come from any of the three grape varieties. That’s unfortunate, because the results are fairly mixed across this category, with some astounding highlights and a lot of good, but not necessarily memorable, wines defining the rest of the category. But I think the winegrowers of Abruzzo are on to this, and we’ll be seeing more and more interesting wines coming from Trebbiano d’Abruzzo as they give prominence to their locally distinct version of Trebbiano.

Tiberio, Emidio Pepe and Valentini are the clear leaders because they’re working solely with Trebbiano Abruzzese (and their mastery in the cellar cannot be understated). But expect to pay handsomely for a bottle. Tiberio’s entry-level Trebbiano d’Abruzzo as well as Amorotti’s Trebbiano d’Abruzzo are so far the only wines I’ve encountered that show the potential of this grape at a modest price. Tiberio’s higher end “Fonte Canale” is a highly sought-after wine at the moment.

Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo

Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo is one of the most consistently exciting and adaptable rosé wines in Italy. For more details, read my First-Taste Guide to Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo. I would highly recommend including this wine for our tasting.

Montepulciano d’Abruzzo

Abruzzo’s most famous wine is understandably confused with Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Rosso di Montepulciano — two Tuscan wines from a village of the same name. How this uniquely Abruzzo grape (Montepulciano) came to be known by this name is a twisted and uncertain tale, which we will discuss in the class. The important thing to know is this:

  • Montepuliano d’Abruzzo = red wine from the Montepuliano grape grown in Abruzzo
  • Vino Nobile/Rosso di Montepulciano = red wine from the Sangiovese grape grown in Tuscany

You might note my attempt to pick the appropriate HTML text color for those two grapes in the glass. We’ll spend some time comparing Montepulciano’s expression to other major Italian red varieties in the class.

Some key details: Montepulciano d’Abruzzo must be made from 85% Montepulciano, but most are in fact 100%. This grape dominates vineyard acreage plantings in Abruzzo, and it is really the only red grape of consequence at the moment. The wine will have inky-purple color, and common aromatic notes are on a spectrum from black cherry to blackberry, with oak-aged wines showing leathery notes.

There are now two DOCG categories for Montepulciano wines — Colline Teramane Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOCG and Causaria DOCG — but I did not taste anything that led me to believe these designations are yet warranted. Concentrate your efforts on the Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC and you’ll do fine.

Best Producers

So which producers should you seek out from Abruzzo? Below is a far-from-comprehensive list, but it is a great starting point. The first six producers are unquestionably in the upper echelon from the region, while the bottom few are some other brands you might see with larger distribution yet solid standards for quality, too.

  • Cirelli – Of the affordable producers in Abruzzo, I am listing Francesco Cirelli first because of the quality of his wines, as well as the pure expression you get, especially from the Pecorino, Trebbiano and Cerasuolo. This is a great starting point to understanding their flavors and structure, but also this region’s potential. He’ll be getting his own Essential Winemaker page soon.
  • Emidio Pepe – Expensive, but one of Italy’s most iconic wineries because they do everything the old-fashioned way: grapevines are co-planted with other crops, grapes are foot stomped instead of pressed, and everything is aged in glass-lined concrete, never seeing a splinter of oak. I respect this operation as much as any in Italy. Today, it is in the capable hands of Emidio Pepe’s granddaughter, Chiara de Iulis Pepe. The Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo is the most affordable wine (around $50) while the legendary Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is priced around $150.
  • Amorotti – I am leaving the highly esteemed Valentini off this list because one “splurge” is enough, and I don’t want to give a false impression that Abruzzo is a land of expensive wines. It really is only Emidio Pepe and Valentini who crack the $50 mark (and Valentini is so sought after, the wines reach $200/bottle). But, the secretive family has taken a shine to their new neighbors in Loreto Aprutino, Amorotti. These minimal-intervention wines are fascinating to taste, and I long ago listed them as an Essential Winemaker of Italy for their dazzling and surprising wines.
  • Torre dei Beati – This unusually named winery (Tower of the Blessed) was my favorite discovery in June, and an estate that I’ll be seeking out more frequently in the future. They produced the top Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo I tasted, but the Montepulciano wines (particularly “Mazzamurello”) are equally expressive, detailed and thrilling.
  • Tiberio – In recent years, Cristiana Tiberio has emerged as a superstar in Abruzzo wine, particularly for her work with Trebbiano Abruzzese. Tiberio’s “Fonte Canale” Trebbiano d’Abruzzo is a collector’s item and priced accordingly, but the entry-level wines are still fairly priced and quite indicative of varietal character. Every vine Tiberio works with is propagated via massal selection, ensuring more genetic diversity and resilience. Along with Cirelli, Tiberio is a great starting point.
  • Ciavolich – This winery has a fascinating history, and today is run by a young and visionary winemaker, Chiara Ciavolich, who tells two stories of Abruzzo wine with two different products lines. I like the “Fosso Cancelli” line of wines, which employ traditional winemaking methods and fermentation vessels such as concrete and clay. Another dazzling Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo comes from this winery. Seek it out if you can.
  • La Valentina / Az. Ag. Binomio – Not to be confused with Valentini, La Valentina shows that you can produce eco-sensitive wines at a decent scale, and still retain the local personality in the wines. Of the wines with a wider distribution from Abruzzo, I like them best. The Montepulciano d’Abruzzo called “Spelt” is particularly good. Binomio is a single vineyard of old vines that the winery purchased, and from which they produce a single Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Riserva that is full-bodied and intense.
  • Masciarelli – One of the most recognized brands in Abruzzo, Masciarelli shines with two of its Montepulciano d’Abruzzo wines: “Villa Gemma” and, in particular, “Marina Cvetic.”
Thunderstorm approaching the high mountain vineyards of Abruzzo, Italy

Key to Our Wine Icons

– Practicing Organic
 – Certified Organic
 – Practicing Biodynamic
 – Certified Biodynamic
– Biodiversity
– Polyculture
– Old Vines
– Heroic Viticulture
– Volcanic Soil
– Traditional Winemaking
– Clay Vessel Winemaking
– Family-Operated Winery
– Historic Winery
– Co-operative Winery
– Négociant
– Stay at Winery
– Age-Worthy Wine
– Expensive Wine (+$100)
– Requires Some Searching

Sign Up for Emails
The best way to stay on top of our upcoming virtual tastings, new articles and wine reviews, and subscription opportunities.

Skip to content