Thirty-plus years ago, when Gianni Masciarelli founded his namesake winery in San Martino sulla Marrucina, in eastern Abruzzo, montepulciano and trebbiano were barely considered grapes in the wine world. Because they were treated as an afterthought, and, of course, also due to the style most producers fashioned these varietals in, no one thought of them as more than ingredients in bulk wine. Masciarelli had other ideas: He was certain that both of these grapes, if planted properly, treated well during the growing season, and not over-manipulated in the cellar, could produce world-class, vineyard-driven wines. Gianni Masciarelli inherited his passion for vineyards and wine from his maternal grandfather, Umberto. Gianni started working with grapes in 1978, and in 1981 founded his winery. It’s fair to say Abruzzo has never been the same. The quality charge he led has been felt throughout the region, with other producers following his example.
Masciarelli — who died of a stroke in 2008 at the age of 53 — achieved his goal by setting a high bar for both montepulciano and trebbiano. His wines have been highly regarded, receiving, among other honors, numerous Tre Bicchieri awards from Gambero Rosso — the highest rating an Italian wine can receive in the country. The true mark of his success can be seen both in the growth of his brand and the influence on others to push the envelope.
I was in Abruzzo recently and had the chance to taste through the portfolio. Visiting several Masciarelli vineyards, viewing a few from the sky in a hot air balloon, and then tasting the wines they produced was an illuminating exercise in sense of place. Masciarelli Wine Company is not only making wines that move montepulciano and trebbiano to the top edge of the quality marker, they’re doing so while maintaining a sense of Abruzzo as a whole and their specific vineyard sites in particular.
Spending the better part of a week in Abruzzo at the charming Castello di Semivicoli hotel, I was able to soak in Abruzzo life. I drank the Masciarelli wines with lunches and dinners, and on their own. Both current vintages and some choice older wines were imbibed. The bottom line is that these wines are by and large marvelous examples of what can be achieved when someone strives for the brass ring. They’re also fantastic food wines that are more than reasonably priced for the value in each bottle.
Visit Abruzzo, and book a room at Castello Di Semivicoli if you can. Or at worst, run to your local fine wine retailer and lay into to some Masciarelli wines. You can thank me for the tip later.
Masciarelli Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2013 ($10)
The entry-level montepulciano in the Masciarelli portfolio is made from grapes sourced at a number of their properties throughout Abruzzo. This wine has a lovely garnet red color. Bits of violet and red fruit emerge on the expressive nose. Cherry, leather, spices, and more are evident on the even-keeled palate. Wisps of earth, dried strawberry, and continuing spices mark the above-average finish.
Masciarelli Villa Gemma Bianco Colline Teatine 2014 ($16)
Three varieties (trebbiano, cococciola, and chardonnay) are blended together to create this white. The nose shows off white flowers and yellow fruits. Oodles of fresh fruit flavors dominate the palate with golden delicious apple, pear, and banana all playing a role. Minerals and spice dominate the long finish. Whether by itself or paired with cheeses or light foods, this is an outrageously good value.
Masciarelli Marina Cvetic Trebbiano d’Abruzzo Riserva 2013 ($23)
This is entirely trebbiano from vines that had 50 years of age on them at harvest. A lovely yellow hue is resplendent in the glass. The rich nose is buoyed by white peach, apricot, and a touch of cream. From the very first sip the concentrated flavors envelop your senses and provide wave after wave of flavor. Stone fruits, bits of citrus zest, and copious spice are all present. Wet limestone, pepper, and more are all part of the mouth-watering finish. This incredibly complex wine has a stunning mouth-feel.
Masciarelli Marina Cvetic Chardonnay Colline Teatine 2013 ($45)
Chardonnay is one of a handful of non-indigenous varieties that Masciarelli produces in small quantities. This wine is 100 percent from the grape. Aging took place over 18 months in new barriques followed by a year in bottle prior to release. Asian pear and spices combine to form a seductive nose. The densely layered palate is loaded with orchard fruits, lemon curd, bits of tropical fruit, and more. Minerals, toasted nuts, and more spices are present on the persistent finish.
Masciarelli Castello di Semivicoli Pecorino 2015 (N/A)
This small production wine is produced from entirely pecorino. All of the fruit comes from the estate that the Masciarelli castello sits on. Savory herbs and bits of yellow fruit combine to form an aromatic profile that is engaging and somewhat funky in nature. Fresh yellow fruits, minerals, and spice are all present in droves. A dollop of salinity emerges on the clean, lean finish, which is mouth-watering and demands you come back for another sip.
Masciarelli Marina Cvetic Trebbiano d’Abruzzo 2007 (N/A)
This is an older library selection of the winery's highest level trebbiano. If you’re of the mind that this grape isn’t age-worthy, find a bottle of Masciarelli’s with some years on it to disabuse yourself of that notion. The color here is a deep, rich gold. Toasted hazelnut and pecan aromas are joined by a cornucopia of spices. The core of this trebbiano is remarkably concentrated. Pineapple, Linzer torte crust, wisps of savoy herb, and candied fruit are all present. The prodigious finish has a gravitas that demands attention. This fascinating wine is so delicious, it’s hard to put down. If you can’t find any with age on it, lay some down — it’ll be well worth the wait.
Masciarelli Rosato Colline Teatine 2014 ($12)
This rosé was produced entirely from montepulciano d’Abruzzo grapes. Masciarelli has been making this particular wine since 1981. It has a beautiful ripe strawberry hue. Somewhat intense aromas of red fruit jump from the nose. Red cherry, strawberry, and gentle hints of plum dominate the palate. All of these elements continue on the crisp, refreshing, lip-smacking finish. This wine draws you in for sip after sip with its incredibly appealing aromas and flavors.
Masciarelli Villa Gemma Cerasuolo d'Abruzzo 2014 ($14.99)
This one is also made entirely from montepulciano d’Abruzzo. The boisterous nose is loaded with red fruit aromas tinged by a bit of white pepper. The flavors here also lean towards vibrant and refreshing red fruits. A combination of dried and sour red fruits are apparent on the long finish. Pair this with a charcuterie plate or casual bar foods for great results.
Masciarelli Marina Cvetic San Martino Rosso Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2008 ($28)
Fruit for this wine came from vineyard sites sitting about 650 to 1,300 feet above sea level. It’s 100 percent montepulciano. The nose is stuffed with earth, leather, tobacco, and dried red fruits. Black cherry and red currant characteristics dominate the somewhat chewy palate. Chicory, black pepper, and a touch more leather are all present on the long, pleasing finish. If you’re grilling red meat you’ll have a hard time finding a better partner. Porcini mushroom risotto with pecorino would work gloriously as well.
Masciarelli Villa Gemma Cerasuolo Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2005 (N/A)
This 11-year-old montepulciano is dark and inky in color. Earth and leather dominate the nose. Tobacco and dried red and black fruits mark the palate. Finely ground espresso, a dusting of cocoa, and spices are present on the solid finish. This will still hold up for a few years, but it’s delicious and tempting now, so no reason to wait any longer.