A Quick Trip to Abruzzo: The Wines of Codice Citra

Panorama Abruzzese
Panorama Abruzzese by Maurizio Cimino (iStock)

Would you be able to point to Abruzzo, Italy on a map? Unless you’ve spent a lot of time wandering around Italy’s countryside – or taken a class on Italian wines – probably not. My interest in Abruzzo and the Adriatic Coast piqued when I began to learn about the 20 wine regions of Italy; it deepened when I met my husband, whose family hails from the city of Pescara. But not even he knew much about it!

Abruzzo-Region-Italy Wine Folly
Abruzzo, Italy (map: Wine Folly)

It’s a shame, really, because this part of Italy has much to recommend it:

  • Abruzzo has more national parks and forests than any other Italian region.
  • It boasts stunning, tranquil beaches along the Adriatic Sea.
  • The Apennine Mountains run through the middle of the region, providing a range of climates, soils, and aspects suitable for growing a host of grape varieties.
  • Wines from the region were celebrated as early as the first century BC, when native son Ovid waxed poetic about the local grapes.
  • Hannibal is rumored to have treated his soldiers to wine from Abruzzo after their difficult crossing of the Alps.

The Grapes of Abruzzo

Plantings here are dominated by two varieties: Montepulciano, a black grape that gives rise to deeply colored wines with robust tannins and structure. Over time it has been in demand as a blending grape for producers looking to boost those components in their own wines.

The leading white grape variety is Trebbiano d’Abruzzo which, strangely enough, may turn out not to be related to the Trebbiano family at all: studies have suggested that it may be more closely akin to Bombino Bianco from Puglia or Trebbiano Spoletino in Umbria.

Other grapes are grown here, too: interesting white varieties like Pecorino, Passerina, and Cococciola add to the mix of local specialties. Wines from Abruzzo may be new to you, but they are most definitely worth seeking out.

Close Up Both Bottles
Passerina and Montepulciano – two varieties from Abruzzo. Get to know them!

Codice Citra: Vini, Volti, Valori

Founded in 1973, Codice Citra has brought together winegrowers from nine local co-operatives, all from the Chieti province of Abruzzo. Their mission is to highlight the native grape varieties of the region, making wine that reflects rural traditions while taking advantage of innovations in viticultural research. Riccardo Cotarella was recently appointed as executive enologist, overseeing a team of 19 technicians and winemakers in the cellar.

The company’s motto is Vini, Volti, Valori, which translates to Wines, Faces, Values. Here’s a short video explaining the traditions and giving you a glimpse of the natural beauty of the region. It’s in Italian, but it’s easy to understand the gist of what they’re saying:

The Codice Citra portfolio comprises four brands:

  • Citra, well-established in the US, offers wines of regional and varietal typicity. A perfect introduction to Abruzzo wine.
  • Ferzo is a new brand that selects grapes grown on the best parcels – or patches – of land in southern Abruzzo. The name comes from a nautical term for the patches stitched together to make a sail.
  • Caroso offers the best expression of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, grown in Chieti’s top hillside vineyard.
  • Las Vitae wines come from Montepulciano grapes harvested from 40-year-old vines in one of Abruzzo’s highest elevations.

Tasting the Wines

Note: I received these wines as media samples for consideration and review. This post reflects my honest opinion of the wines.

Ferzo and Red Lentil Soup
Ferzo Passerina and Lentil Soup. 

2017 Codice Citra Ferzo Passerina IGP Terre di Chieti (13.3% abv; $26 SRP)

Passerina is a white variety that is disease-resistant, and which thrives in the rolling hills stretching westward, from the Adriatic Sea toward the Apennine Mountains. Grapes enjoy the cooling effects of the brezza di terra, a breeze that flows between coast and crestline.

Held in high esteem by Abruzzese farmers, the Passerina grape was once called Pagadebito (paying the debt) because growers would sometimes pledge a portion of their harvests as collateral against their debts.

This wine is 100% Passerina, grown on 80 acres of calcareous clay soils at about 250 meters above sea level. Fermentation occurred in stainless steel tanks, and the wine rested in tank for three months before bottling.

Color: Pale lemon, a bit paler still at the rim.

Nose: Lively aromas of ripe white peach, fresh orange zest, and sweet grass.

Palate: Similar to the nose, but with stronger citrus flavors, and a little bitter lemon pith on the finish. It’s quite fun to taste it again, as it evolves over an hour or so: distinct mineral notes emerge, along with a hint of thyme.

Ballerina (in theatre version)
Ballerina by rbv (iStock)

Verdict: This is such a lovely wine! I paired it with a homemade lentil soup, and it worked admirably well, but I couldn’t help thinking how much I preferred it all by itself. While I’d hardly describe the wine as delicate, there was an ethereal lightness to it. For some reason I kept thinking of Passerina/Ballerina and maybe that’s how to sum up this wine: agile and strong but beautifully light on its feet.

Caroso and Pizzas
Caroso Montepulciano made a great partner with pizza.

2013 Codice Citra Caroso Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOP Riserva (14.3% abv; $29 SRP)

Grapes for this Riserva come from vines more than 55 years old that cling to steep, coastal slopes nestled among ancient olive trees and fields of wild flowers. The name Caroso reflects the special place this vineyard holds in the heart of the growers: caro means elegant, rich, or valued – an apt description for this wine.

Made from 100% Montepulciano grapes, this wine was fermented in stainless steel tanks and then transferred to French oak for 24 months. After bottling, the wine rested an additional 12 months before release.

Color: Unabashedly purple at the core, with glints of violet at the rim.

Nose: A lovely mélange of black fruit – plum, blackberry, and cherry – alongside a savory, herbal element. There’s a little bit of smoke and just a touch of grilled meat.

Palate: The first sip hits you hard, with a rush of acidity and tannin that set about cleansing the palate. And then the fruit arrives, lush and ripe, with blackberry, currant, plum, and a trace of black olive. Over time, spicy notes emerge, and the fruit flavors soften – more dried fruit than fresh.

My Pizza from Batch Gastropub
Salt, fat, and flavor: the Caroso had no trouble handling all three!

Verdict: This wine knocked my socks off! That first taste, when it cleansed my palate, reminded me of something Gaia Gaja said about one of her Barbarescos: “We call this wine The Cleaner because it cleans the palate and gets you ready for the next bite.” Perfectly appropriate for this wine as well. We drank it with two pizzas from our favorite local place, Batch Gastropub: one was called the Korean Short Rib, full of Asian spice and heat. The other was the Divine Swine, a combo of pepperoni, salami, coppa, bacon, and arugula. All I can say is that the wine was the perfect foil to the salty, fatty goodness of both pies.

That said, this wine would acquit itself well next to a much more refined dish. Crown rack of pork, anyone? Bistecca alla Fiorentina? In my opinion, the Caroso Montepulciano Riserva is a steal at $29 – regardless of what you pair with it.

I hope my notes have encouraged you to explore more wines from Abruzzo, Italy. If you try one you’re especially fond of, drop a line in the comment section and tell me about it. Having tasted these two, I’m on the hunt for a few more bottles!

Cin Cin!

4 comments

  1. I’m a Passerina fan, and this one sounds lovely. I like the floral, peachy character and like you found, ones I’ve tasted tend to have an herb character on the finish and higher acidity. Spring just says Passerina don’t you think?!? BTW, love the ballerina picture 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • I really enjoyed the Passerina but it’s not so easy to find in stores here. We do have an excellent Italian shop in the neighborhood, so I will look for a bottle there. Do you have a preferred pairing? I found that I liked it best on its own, although it was good with food.

      Like

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