Vinnie and I were travelling through the hills that separate the mountainous Apennine peaks from the narrow coastal strip in northern Abruzzo when our attention was captured by a rather strange land formation. From a distance it seemed as if Selene, the Goddess of the Moon, had reached down from her lunar chariot to leave her mark on Mother Earth. On closer inspection we could see gullies separated by narrow ridges. It was an example of erosion called calanchi. It’s an effect that only occurs when a particular set of circumstances is in place. Firstly, the terrain must be steeply sloping and here it certainly is as the runoff from the eastern Apennines rushes towards the Adriatic, cutting deep valleys through the landscape. Next, the soil must be clay with a significant sand content. Finally, the climate must have long hot and dry periods interspersed with intense rainfall; the heat of a Mediterranean summer ensures the first whilst the looming presence of the mountains generates the second.
Our destination lay high up in this curious landscape on a small plateau atop a hill, 300 metres above sea level. This is where Simone Binelli and his wife, Francesca, have settled and, in their own way, they too are leaving their mark. Simone left a career in pharmacy and Mantua – with the Mannerist magnificence of the Palazzo Te – and made a complete change of direction. But this was not some ill-considered whim. He went to Florence where he studied oenology and then spent three years searching for the perfect spot before choosing this site to grow his grapes. Here, on 12 hectares of land they produce around 44,000 bottles of wine per annum.
The name they have chosen for their project, Ausonia, is taken from a rare type of butterfly that caught the attention of Simone’s father, an enthusiastic lepidopterist, as he was walking in the vineyards. Incidentally, it is also the name that the ancient Greeks gave to southern Italy. As a tribute to his father, all his wines are all named after local butterflies and this also demonstrates the very real link between Simone, his organic approach to vine cultivation, and his respect and care for the environment around him.
This respect extends to his wine-making as well. The modern winery has been built to the highest environmental standards and sits unobtrusively in the landscape. Inside, Simone weaves his magic using steel fermentation vessels and then maturing his wine in steel, wood, and cement vessels or even terracotta amphora, always seeking that elusive perfect combination. He produces a range of wines including two whites. The first is a Trebbiano d’Abruzzo made from grapes from 30-year-old vines that were here when Simone purchased the property. The second is made from Pecorino grapes from vines that Simone planted himself.
However, we were visiting with a very specific purpose in mind. We were here to sample the Colline Teramane Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOCG. If the name seems a bit of a mouthful then the wine certainly is, but in a good way, and is well worth searching out. The prestigious DOCG status was only awarded relatively recently in 2003 and annual production overall hovers around the 45,000 cases per year mark compared to over 9,000,000 cases for its lesser DOC cousin, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. Of course, Simone brings his own expertise and dedication to his version of this wine. After fermentation in steel the wine matures for a year in wood before being transferred to cement tanks where it spends a further 12 months or 24 for the riserva.
The first wine we sampled was an Apollo from 2019. It has a deep ruby colour and a full bouquet rich with cherries and raspberries. On the palate the acidity is well-balanced with the soft tannins. This is a wine that will certainly pair well with dishes of red meat.
The next wine we were privileged to sample was Simone’s riserva, from 2015 – he calls this wine Nostradamus. A deep ruby colour, almost opaque, it has a bouquet redolent of plums and cherries with a hint of liquorice. In the mouth it is full and joyous with a great structure with plenty of tannins that have softened during the years that it has spent maturing. The presence of these tannins suggest a wine that will have a long life and Simone thinks that it has at least another 10 to 15 years. For me, this wine deserves the accolade of a vino di meditazione, something to enjoy in the peace and quiet of moments of contemplation. But if you wish to pair it with anything perhaps try either a very mature cheese or a rich, dark, bitter chocolate.
Small, dedicated artisan wine makers like Simone provide the variety and quality that is so often lacking in our modern fast-paced world and allow those fortunate enough to discover their wines moments of colour in our all too monochromatic existence.