Wine in Abruzzo Gains the Spotlight with the Tullum DOCG - Grapevine Adventures

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Wine in Abruzzo Gains the Spotlight with the Tullum DOCG

What better way to enjoy being out and about again than enjoying wine in Abruzzo by visiting a winery that has been built on the ruins of an ancient Roman villa? Well, to trump that it is a winery that is basically at the center of the fairly recent Tullum DOCG. I am talking about Feudo Antico which is a smaller satellite winery of Cantina Tollo, where they are focusing on quality and experimentation. I had the fortune to visit them in early July to learn more about the Tullum DOCG, the territory, and the wines.

Abruzzo is a fascinating region and perhaps one of those few Italian regions that are still a bit “selvaggia” (wild) and less touristy. I hope it can stay that way for some time yet. Anyway, it is a region that I have wanted to learn more about for quite some time, and this was the perfect opportunity.

Tullum DOCG – A New Appellation in Abruzzo

“DOCG Tullum is a unique, one of the few territorial DOP [read DOCG] in Abruzzo and it has a history that goes far back in time. Viticulture in Tollo dates to the era immediately A.D. From research, we know that viticulture was carried out, that there are traces of wine production that date to ancient times. Some years ago, we discovered the remains of a Roman country house.”

said Andrea di Fabio, general manager of Feudo Antico, during our visit.

Tullum DOCG, which was instituted as recently as 2019, is an appellation in a territory where viticulture dates to ancient times, at least to the Roman era. It is an appellation built around three main aspects or “parameters” namelyTerritory, man, and research” as it says on their website. The particular territory and its suitability for viticulture and winemaking since ancient times are, in fact, what lies at the heart of the creation of this small DOCG. There is a lot of Montepulciano wine produced in Abruzzo in a large range of types and quality, thus, in Tollo they wanted to be able to distinguish themselves and highlight the particularity of the wines produced in this small area.

Montepulciano_Vineyard_Abruzzo
Montepulciano vineyard

A unique territory and suitability for viticulture are true for many parts of southern, if not all of Italy. History and territory are probably at the core of many viticultural areas and appellations in Italy, what is special here is perhaps the drive to unite the three factors of territory, the joint force of people, and research as a basis for the new appellation. The desire to stand out and create an area or appellation built on a cru mentality is in line with present times. Look, for example, at the recent initiative of the Chianti Classico Consortium with dividing the territory into 11 areas, or villages, so-called MGAs – additional geographic indications.

The DOCG is, in fact, focused on a cru and single-vineyard mentality as well as a low yield production. The regulations must be followed by the smaller growers having vineyard plots within the DOCG area and being a part of Feudo Antico. In the vineyard, they apply the method of green pruning, or harvest, which means that they keep only the best bunches and cut away the rest, to ensure higher quality. This was hard to pull through with the smaller growers in a world where they traditionally would be paid by weight, i.e. per 100 kilograms of grapes.

Did you know…?

…that Feudo Antico (Cantina Tollo) is paying by surface area instead of weight. This means that the growers earn a fixed income per surface and do not need to worry about cutting away grapes in favor of quality winemaking.

Montepulciano is a grape variety that can be found in many of the central and southern regions of Italy, but, of course, it is most predominant in Abruzzo. It seems to be unclear still how the grape ended up in Abruzzo, Ian D’Agatha writes that some say it arrived there via Tuscany and the Medici family. The Montepulciano grape has in the past often been mistaken for Sangiovese or thought to be the same as Pugnitello. However, in more recent times it has been shown that Montepulciano and Pugnitello are two different and distinct varieties. Montepulciano is rich in color thanks to its high content of anthocyanins, thereof the extraordinarily intense color of the so typical Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo rosé wines achieved without almost no maceration time. Still, it can also be a tricky grape where the grape clusters ripen unevenly and very late, therefore it needs a slow and balanced growing and maturation cycle. (See Ian D’Agatha, Native Wine Grapes of Italy, pp. 345-347.)

A part of the ruins of the old Roman country house found at the grounds where they have then built the Feudo Antico winery.

What about Feudo Antico Winery in Abruzzo…

Feudo Antico was created as an offshoot to Cantina Tollo, the large cooperative in the area, as a way to focus on research and quality-driven viticulture and winemaking. Feudo Antico is still a part of the cooperative but independent in its activities. It is the main winery within this small DOCG, but not the only one. The other wineries are Vigneti Radica, and Cantina Coltivatori Diretti Tollo CCDD.

Feudo Antico is a winery with 15 hectares of vineyard plots where they grow Passerina, Pecorino, and Montepulciano that are the grape varieties allowed to be cultivated within the DOCG. Feudo Antico produces a standard and conventional range of labels that were their first wines but they also do a lot of continuous experimentation and have developed a newer range of organic labels that are more natural. In their organic wines, they do wild fermentation, no filtration or clarification, and fermentation and maturation in amphora. An example of this is their InAnfora Rosso DOCG which is a monovarietal Montepulciano wine resting on the skins during maceration for 11-12 months in amphora.

Montepulciano_Wine_Amphora_Feudo_Antico_Abruzzo
InAnfora Tullum Docg 2018

We tasted InAnfora 2018 a couple of weeks ago when I was invited together with other journalists and influencers for a preview of the winery, before their official inauguration on 10 July. It is a structured red wine with great complexity, fruit-forward with notes, for example, of cherry and plum, as well as forest floor, herbs, and floral with a touch of violet. On the palate, you also feel the beautiful fruit and a floral touch as well as the tannins that are smooth and well-integrated. There is also a chalky undertone that contributes to its complexity. A very interesting wine where the grape variety and the local territory really shine through.

Let’s delve deeper into the character of the Tullum DOCG…

The first day when we arrived in Ortona, a small town on the seaside in southern Abruzzo, we settled in at a hotel right by the beach and with a fantastic view. In the evening, they had organized dinner at the amazing restaurant set in an old Trabocco (an old fishing machine/construction). While enjoying all the yummy fish courses, I started asking some more questions to Antonio Sitti, their agronomist, and Daniele Ferrante, one of the oenologists working at Cantina Tollo and Feudo Antico.

What is so typical about Tollo then? Why did they feel the need to work towards instituting a new DOCG?

They told me that they in 2011 started doing zoning research together with the University of Milan, under the direction of Prof. Attilio Scienza, to individuate the typicity of the territory and to define which grape varieties are most suited to cultivate in the area. Thus, it emerged that Passerina, Pecorino, and Montepulciano are the grapes giving the best results. The Tollo area has a favorable position between the seaside and mountains benefiting from the winds blowing in from the sea as well as the winds from the mountains, such as the Maiella and Gran Sasso.

Trabocco_Restaurant_Abruzzo

They continued to tell me that the soil in the area is sandy by the seaside while the clay is more predominant the closer you get to Tollo. This gives rise to very fresh, salty, and fruit-forward wines with lovely notes of red fruit, such as marasca cherry, and soft, sweet tannins. These are the typical traits of the wines produced in the Tollo area that stand out in comparison to the Montepulciano wines from other areas in Abruzzo. They argued that wines from the Vasto area are more earthy, while the wines from the Teramane area have a higher acidity.

The Wines tasted at Feudo Antico…

During our day at Feudo Antico, we tasted

  • Passerina Tullum DOCG 2020
  • Pecorino Tullum DOCG Bio FS 2020
  • Passerina Tullum DOCG 2019
  • Pecorino Tullum DOCG Bio FS 2019
  • Casadonna Pecorino Terre Aquilane IGP 2019
  • Rosso Tullum DOCG 2016
  • Rosso Riserva Tullum DOCG 2016

As an overall impression, I liked the wines. Of course, I am leaning more in favor of the organic wines made with natural yeasts and wild fermentation, but I think that the more conventional labels defend themselves very nicely. Passerina and Pecorino are two white grape varieties that are very underrated so far in the wine world, in my opinion. In fact, Riccardo Brighigna, the head oenologist at Feudo Antico and Cantina Tollo, calls Passerina the grape variety of the future for its late ripening and harvest period and its acidity level. Passerina used to be called Pagadebit, i.e. the grape that helped the farmers pay their bills in the past due to its high yield. When cultivated with a lower yield and with the aim to make quality wines it gives very good results.

Passerina_Tullum_DOCG_Feudo_Antico_Abruzzo
Passerina Tullum DOCG 2019

Pecorino is perhaps the more known among the two grape varieties. They are both grown in Abruzzo as well as in Le Marche. I remember a conversation in the #ItalianFWT group I believe, some time ago, where someone said they liked Pecorino wines from both Abruzzo and Le Marche but thought that the ones from Abruzzo often were less structured. I think some of the comments were that it might depend on the fact that Pecorino wines in Le Marche are often produced within a higher appellation such as the Offida DOCG and, thus, according to stricter regulations. I believe that the Pecorino wines within the Tullum DOCG showed their elegance and structure just as well. The results surely improve when you aim for quality.

The Pecorino Tullum DOCG Bio FS 2020 is a fresh and mineral wine with lovely notes of fruit (green pear, peach), herbs, floral, and a touch of sea breeze. Pecorino Tullum DOCG Bio FS 2019 had a more intense nose, a bit of spiciness, and a hint of petroleum which Riccardo Brighigna said is typical. Later on, at lunch, we also tasted a Pecorino Tullum DOCG 2017 from the standard line where you could feel the note of petroleum too. So, it takes a bit longer for the conventional Pecorino to evolve but, in the end, you can see a common denominator between the two versions.

Pecoriono_Biologico_Tullum_DOCG_Feudo_Antico_Abruzzo
Pecorino Tullum DOCG Bio FS 2020

(Read more about Abruzzo wine in my article Le Marche & Abruzzo – Two Regions… Two Expressions of Pecorino.)

The wines of Abruzzo…

have definitely been on my radar for quite some time. Therefore, the trip to Tollo thanks to Feudo Antico winery and the Tullum DOCG consortium was definitely a great way to learn more about the wines of Abruzzo. Have you tasted any of their wines?

Katarina Andersson

Seen often at wine events streaming live, Katarina is a wine writer, wine educator, social media strategist, and translator. She is the founder of WinesOfItaly LiveStream. She has been a guest at The Cellar, hosted by Richard Glover, at Wine Two Five, a podcast hosted by Stephanie Davis and Valerie Caruso, and at the Twitter chat #WiningHourChat founded by Li Valentine.

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