Vinnie and I were high in the Apennine mountains in Abruzzo, hunting down a Montepulciano wine, and my musings turned to maps. I have been fascinated by them since I was a child. Of course, the attempt to represent a three-dimensional world in two dimensions must always be a compromise but I was always impressed by the British Ordnance Survey. The presence of the contour lines allowed me to visualise the topography in a way that other maps simply did not. Now, when it comes to town plans the scale is such that contours are not normally included or indeed needed. However, at the limit, strange things start to happen. On the Amalfi coast hotels cling to the cliffs, their roofs level with the road to provide much-valued parking spaces; this is something a traditional map struggles to represent. As we approached the village of Prezza that somehow manages to attach itself to the vertiginous slopes of the eponymous mountain, I could feel that some similar warping of my spatial awareness was likely to happen there.
The Valle Peligna is a plateau that in prehistoric times was a lake. The lake has long gone but the fertile soils remain. Dominated by the surrounding mountains, and at 400 metres above sea level, this is good grape-growing territory. We were looking down on this agricultural paradise from 200 metres up in one of the highest points of the village and Antonia from Vini Praesidium was pointing out the seven hectares of family vineyards which provide the grapes for an annual production of around 30,000 bottles. The business was founded by her father, Enzo, and mother, Lucia. Enzo learned the arts of viticulture and wine-making when working in his grandparents’ vineyards. They produced wine for local consumption but Enzo could see the commercial potential of the high-quality Montepulciano grapes harvested from the vines nurtured in the rich alluvial soil of the valley. From this deceptively simple observation Vini Praesidium was born.Today, Antonia works in the company with her brother, Ottaviano.
It was at this point that Antonia invited us to see the cellars and this is when my brain began to lose its sense of spatial orientation. The cellars are underneath the house but access is from the street behind. It’s a steep street and so no problem there but the cellars have then been dug into the cliffs behind and the family have also taken the cellar of the house next door which is double the height of the rest of the estate. The result is akin to being in a Tardis. It appears vastly bigger on the inside than the exterior should allow. But other magic is clearly being worked down here and to find out exactly what that might be we retired to the tasting room. Antonia explained that all the wines they produce are certified organic and are unfiltered. Furthermore, they do not use commercial yeasts in the fermentation but rather rely on what is termed spontaneous fermentation.
I tasted their Montepulciano d’Abruzzo 2017 Riserva which certainly lived up to its reputation. The first thing that is immediately apparent is the dark, almost impenetrable, ruby colour. This is a wine that spends about twelve days fermenting on the skins allowing all the colour of the grapes to pass to the wine. It then matures for two long years in steel tanks before transferring to Slovenian oak botte for a further two years. At the end of this period it spends at least six months in the bottle. All this love and care results in a rich wine with a bouquet which is strong and earthy with black fruits woven through along with leather and liquorice. On the palate the acidity was beautifully balanced and the tannins were perfect. The flavour of cherries and plums rolled around the mouth and the finish was deliciously long. This is an elegant wine which would pair well with any mature cheese or game. The huge “tears” or “legs” on the inside of my glass suggested that this may be a wine with a big structure and that indeed is the case. Antonia gives this an ageing potential of up to 30 years.
However, there is more to Praesidium than just the Montepulciano grape and I was pleased to also sample their Trebbiano d’Abruzzo, a DOC white wine that Antonia explained is called Luci after her mother. Unusually for a white wine, this is macerated for 15 hours, a process that gives this wine a delightful gold colour. There follows a spontaneous fermentation followed by 12 months maturing on the lees in steel tanks and then 8 months in the bottle. On the nose there is the delicate perfume of peaches and on the palate the citrus flavours of orange liqueur and lemons.
On our travels through Italy Vinnie and I have found many dedicated artisan winemakers and the one thing that unites them all is their willingness to experiment and innovate. Vini Praesidium must surely rank with the best. Their single-mindedness in the pursuit of the perfect Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is something that you can only admire whilst relishing the wine. We are indeed blessed that there are such people working so tirelessly simply for our pleasure.