A New Age in Abruzzo

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Something is happening in Abruzzo.

Year by year, this wild, sparsely populated and earthquake-prone region of central Italy is making more wines worthy of attention. 

"Abruzzo has grown," says Stefano Papetti Ceroni, 43, a former lawyer from Bologna who in 2010 began making wine labeled De Fermo at his in-laws' sleepy farm in Loreto Aprutino. "Now, there are more smaller producers." 

Abruzzo wines have long been hit or miss. A trio of producers helped put the region on the fine-wine map in the last half-century. Valentini became best known for velvety white Trebbiano d'Abruzzo with long aging potential. Emidio Pepe focused on elegant, ageworthy red Montepulciano d'Abruzzo. And Masciarelli pioneered powerful modern reds and whites.

These wineries continue to thrive. With the deaths of Edoardo Valentini in 2006 and Gianni Masciarelli in 2008, family members have taken over. Emidio Pepe, now 85, has turned over winemaking to his daughter Sofia.  

At the same time, the pioneers are inspiring a new generation. 

On a recent trip to Valentini's hometown of Loreto Aprutino, nestled in the hills between the warm Adriatic Sea and the tallest glacial mountain peaks in central Italy, I visited some new-wave wineries of the last 20 years—all of which farm organically, use low-tech production methods, including indigenous yeasts, and have found a helpful friend in Valentini's son and current winemaker, Francesco Paolo Valentini, 55.  

Take the case of Papetti Ceroni. He and his wife, Eloisa De Fermo, farm biodynamically and, with no enology training or help from a consulting winemaker, produce wines that now appear on the lists of prestigious venues such as the Batali-Bastianich partnership Del Posto, a Wine Spectator Grand Award winner in Manhattan.

The De Fermo wines—including the elegant flagship Montepulciano d'Abruzzo called Prologo, a simpler Montepulciano called Concrete, a Montepulciano rosé and a white from the Pecorino variety—are made in the stone cellar of an old farmhouse, in cement vats and large oak barrels. Production is now 3,750 cases annually.

"My path is a common one for artisan vignerons in Italy; we arrived in wine from other areas," says Papetti Ceroni. 

Papetti Ceroni grew up a city kid. He discovered wine in the reviews of his mother's cooking magazines. At 12, he bought his first bottle of wine "to smell the aromas the journalists were writing about—not to drink....read the full blog at winespectator.com