Gianni Masciarelli is described by his family as Abruzzo’s first “garagiste”. He began as a home winemaker with a 6-acre family vineyard in San Martino sulla Marrucina in Abruzzo’s Chieti province. His first vintage was 1981, in a simpler time. He was a forward-thinking man (he introduced new vine-training systems, French oak barrels and higher density plantings in the vineyard), but he also understood the value of the oldest, least productive vineyards.
Masciarelli’s estate vineyards have grown considerably over the past 40 years. Vineyards now total 741 acres, in 60 individual plots, located in the provinces of Chieti, Pescara, Teramo and L’Aquila. Masciarelli (pronounced Mass-shee-ah-RELL-ee) is the only Abruzzo winery that owns vineyards in all four of Abruzzo’s provinces. Half of all estate vineyards are farmed organically and biodynamic practices are also employed. Masciarelli’s annual production of 2.2 million bottles is entirely estate grown.
Sadly, Gianni Masciarelli passed away in 2008. Today, Masciarelli Winery is in the capable hands of Gianni’s wife, Marina Cvetić Masciarelli, whom Gianni met in Croatia during an early trip to buy wine barrels, and their daughter, Miriam Lee Masciarelli. Together with winemaker Attilio Alfino, both women are continuing “the crazy little project”, as Miriam puts it, started by her father and developed by both of her parents together until her father’s death.
I recently had the pleasure of attending a discussion and wine tasting led by Miriam Lee Masciarelli during which she outlined much of the family’s history above. The tasting included wines from Masciarelli’s Villa Gemma and Marina Cvetić lines of wine. We received these wines as tasting samples.
2022 Villa Gemma, Abruzzo Bianco DOC — light golden with generous aromas of white flowers, ripe melon and citrus zest. Flavors include ripe melon, white flowers and citrus zest with lively acidity and a long finish. 13% abv. SRP $24
Trebbiano Abruzzese is the signature white grape of Abruzzo and, although related to Trebbiano found elsewhere Italy, it is completely unique. Curiosity about Trebbiano Abruzzese led me to open Italian Wine Unplugged 2.0 where I found Masciarelli listed as a benchmark producer.
Also part of the blend is Pecorino, an indigenous variety that lends minerality along with fruit and floral components, and Cococciola, rare and also indigenous to Abruzzo, that contributes acidity and an herbal character. This is the only Masciarelli wine made using a blend of grape varieties. Winemaking takes place in stainless steel.
Villa Gemma wines are named for the home where Gianni Masciarelli grew up and that was also the location of his first winery.
2020 Marina Cvetić, Trebbiano d’Abruzzo DOC Riserva — light golden with aromas of spices and citrus. Flavors include citrus, cedar spice, melon and toasty notes in the background with juicy acidity and a bit of roundness. The finish is medium to long. 14% abv. SRP $60
This is the most important white wine in Masciarelli’s portfolio. Gianni named this wine for his wife and it is made in small quantities sourced from older vines. 100% Trebbiano Abruzzese ages for one year in French oak barrels and one year in the bottle before release. Where the Villa Gemma is flirty and drink now, this wine is serious and very ageable.
2022 Villa Gemma, Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo Superiore DOC — bright, translucent red cherry color with generous aromas of red cherries and earth. Flavors include ripe red cherries, blackberries and strawberries supported by bright acidity and fine tannins. 14% abv. SRP $24
Cerasuolo is not a grape variety, it is a description of color of this wine and means cherry-colored. Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo DOC is one of very few appellations in Italy dedicated to this style of wine, which has more in common with a light red wine than a rosé according to Miriam. The Montepulciano grapes have a minimum of 12 hours of skin contact before fermentation. The result is a brilliant, translucent wine in the glass with lots of flavor. It is delicious at room temperature or slightly chilled. Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo must be made using a minimum of 85% Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, but Masciarelli uses 100% Montepulciano.
2019 Marina Cvetić, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC Riserva — dense ruby with aromas of cedar, blackberries, boysenberries and earth. Flavors include dark cherries, boysenberries, strawberries and earth. Tannins are substantial, grippy and drying in a medium body. 14.5% abv. SRP $38
Montepulciano is native to Abruzzo and is the region’s signature red variety. It is very ageable thanks to its high anthocyanin content, which is reflected in the very dark wines with good acidity and significant tannins. Italian Wines Unplugged 2.0 notes Montepulciano accounts for 50% of vineyard plantings in Abruzzo. Masciarelli is also listed as a benchmark producer for Montepulciano.
Montepulciano is sourced from four vineyards in the same village, vinified separately, aged in French oak barriques for 12 to 18 months then blind tasted, blended and aged in bottle for at least six months. Drink this wine now, or within 10 years. It will age. It has plenty of flavor and structure and will pair nicely with a meal.
2018 Villa Gemma, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC Riserva — dense ruby with generous aromas of dark berries, tobacco leaf and earth. Flavors include red and dark cherries, leather, baking spices and earth all supported by juicy acidity and grippy tannins in a medium+ body. 15% abv. SRP $98
100% Montepulciano is sourced the original 12-acre Colle Cave home vineyard dating back to 1930, above and behind the family home in Chieti. The vines are densely planted to limit yield and are about 30-years-old. This wine is made only in the best vintages.
This wine has plenty of structure and generous fruit without being too ripe. Don’t rush with this wine, it will evolve in the glass.
Masciarelli is not Abruzzo’s biggest winery in terms of production, but it does make the most wine sourced entirely from estate vineyards. And with vineyards located in all four provinces Masciarelli is able to bottle the essence of each province’s unique soils and climate.
Other things Miriam Lee Masciarelli wants you to know about Abruzzo:
- Abruzzo is defined by the Apennine Mountains to the west and the Adriatic Sea to the east; in between, Abruzzo is largely rural and uncrowded. Here you will find livestock, farms and vineyards, some of which reach to the foot of the mountains.
- Abruzzo has an appealing combination of authentic people and delicious food. There is little tourism and essentially no traffic. The mountains, national parks and beaches offer plenty for visitors to explore.
- Castello di Semivicoli is a 17th century palace set among grape vines in Chieti province. Gianni Masciarelli and Marina Cvetić Masciarelli purchased the property in 2004 and after renovation opened the property as a luxury hotel in 2009.
Thanks to Miriam for sharing your story, and to Creative Palate Communications for organizing our tasting.