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Recently, on a Brooklyn afternoon as hot as the Sahara, I opened the Ausonia 2018 Trebbiano d'Abruzzo. To say that I enjoyed it would be an understatement. To me, the mouthfeel was perfect. The long stretch of acidity was immediately engaging. Surrounding it were savory notes of apple, herbs and a textural weight that gave the wine a lapping swish. The flavors and the wine's trim muscle spun in delicious circles around this core of great, citrusy, energy. Not only tasty, but so well formed. Not only endowed with peak acidity, but balanced and layered. A few days on when I opened the 2018 Abruzzo Pecorino and found in it the same qualities that I loved about the Trebbiano, I thanked the stars for the wine in my glass.
The stars in this story aren't tiny lights above, but Simone Binelli, and his wife Francesca Lodi, in the Abruzzese town of Atri. Like many winemakers, the duo had a previous life doing work that left them unsatisfied. When Simone finally had it as a pharmacist, he enrolled in winegrowing courses in Florence before the couple began looking for a place to start their winery. And why settle in Abruzzo, when they're both from Northern Italy? In a pleasant email exchange, Francesca gave me the most reasonable answer: affordable land that produces high quality fruit. It was also important that they find a location with some existing vineyards. At the farm where Ausonia would be established in 2006 there were Montepulciano and Trebbiano vines waiting for them. Today, the estate has 12 hectares of Montepulciano, Trebbiano, and Pecorino, along with 400 olive trees. It is positioned 270 meters above sea level on soils of clay and limestone. To the West, the towering Gran Sasso Massif creates a natural climatic barrier and the Adriatic Sea sends cool winds from the East. The region is rich in winemaking legacy, with traditional methods lasting into modern times.
Ausonia's Trebbiano d'Aburzzo is made with the Trebbiano Abruzzese varietal on vines trellised in the Pergola Abruzzese method, planted to the property some time before Simone and Francesca called it home. Francesca pointed out that celebrated producers from Abruzzo, like Emidio Pepe and Valentini, use this tried-and-true trellising system as well. However, it takes work. "It is necessary to be careful in the management of this type of vineyard which tends to produce large quantities of grapes," Francesca mentioned, "but if you work well you can obtain very good products because the grapes are protected by the leaves from possible sunburn..."
The fruit is also exposed more graciously to the beneficial breeze while hanging between the canopy and the soil. During our exchange, Francesca noted that Ausonia has newly planted Montelpuciano vines in the Pergola Abruzzese fashion, now about three years old, which I see as the estate's clear dedication to the winemaking culture and agricultural history of their land.
Highlighting the preservation of not just their local winegrowing customs, but of their natural winegrowing environment, is essential to understanding Ausonia's character as a producer. In 2013, the estate started pushing for organic certification. We're proud to say, since 2016, Ausonia has been recognized in Italy as certified organic and biodynamic. The fields see only rare spraying of copper or sulfur, and green and horn manure are used to fertilize the vines. All the wines we receive from Ausonia are fermented naturally, with limited sulfur at bottling.
In addition to the whites, Chambers Street carries two reds and a rosato from Ausonia. The 2017 Montepulciano d'Abruzzo Apollo shows great complexity, with aromas and flavors that span a scope of juicy stone fruit to dark mineral packed earth. I was surprised at the volume of the wine, which presented a mouth-filling body with a good measure of tannin. Much more serious than I had anticipated, still with inviting flavors and drinkability. The 2016 Montepulciano d'Abruzzo Anfora is restrained, with notes of tobacco, raw nuts, and herbs. The structure is woven and soft. The grapes that go into the Anfora bottling are the same that are used for the Apollo, however the cellar treatment is different. For the Apollo, the wine sees stainless steel alone, while the Anfora is fermented and aged in amphora from Tuscany. This wine sees 12 months in two amphora vessels of different sizes, one of 8 hectolitres and one of 2 hectolitres, before resting in bottle, unfiltered, for another 6 months prior to release. Lastly, the 2019 Cerasuolo d'Abruzzo is the estate's rosato, which combines a small amount of the estate's pied de cuve (which sees skin contact, thus adding color, fruit and texture to the final wine) and juice that has been directly pressed off the skins. The wine shows a mix of deep red stawberry, cherry, and raspberry on the nose and palate, with tamed acidity and full, plush structure. If you like your rosé to have more than an iota of flavor, here you go. A tip: save half the bottle for the next day, because that is when the ripeness of the berries really comes out.
Whether white, red, or rosé, all the Ausonia bottles don labels with the image (or cut-out design) of a butterfly. The winery's tribute to the insect has become central to the brand, ever since Simone's father, a man who knows his butterflies, came across a rare breed fluttering in the newly purchased estate. The Apollo Montepulciano, along with the Trebbiano and Cerasuolo, is named for the Panassius apollo. The Pecorino bottling is named "Machaon," after the Papilio machaon. Even the name Simone and Francesca chose for their estate follows this standard, calling it Ausonia, after the elusive Euchloe ausonia.
I'd like to thank Francesca for the information she provided me while I researched the estate. Grazie Francesca! It was such a pleasure to take a deep dive into the wines of Ausonia. They offer complexity at a great value. They are delicious wines that reflect Francesca and Simone's adherence to tradition, as well as their ambitions to connect ever-further with their land in Abruzzo. We appreciate it as wine lovers, as I'm sure the butterflies appreciate it as visitors in their healthy fields. David Hatzopoulos
Beginning with Auosnia's pied de cuve, new grapes are added and kept to ferment for 15 days on the skins before wine is pressed off. This is the same procedure for Ausonia's more fundamental Apollo bottling. However, in this case, aging is done in amphora. One vessel is 8 hectolitres and one is a smaller 2 hectolitres. This lasts 12 months before the wine is bottled unfiltered and aged 6 more months in bottle. The color is black in the center with purple edges. Compared with Ausonia's standard Apollo, this wine shows much less fruit. It is more reserved. The wine's nose is soft, with notes of iron, tobacco, soy sauce, raw almonds and walnuts, and dried, savory red cherry. The palate has black cherry and a mix of warm herbs. In structure, the wine displays a soft texture of well-integrated tannins and medium acidity. David Hatzopoulos
Trebbiano d'Abruzzo from clay and limestone soils, grown in vineyards using traditional pergola abruzzese canopy trellising. Fruit is picked by hand at the end of September. Natural fermentation occurs in steel tanks, followed by secondary fermentation. The wine is unfiltered and ages in bottle 10-12 months before release. The wine's color is a clear yellow. Typically I discuss the aromas of a wine before the flavors and mouthfeel, but this Trebbiano had such incredible verve on the back of the tongue, I can't help but go into it first. A shock, a zing, a powerful mix of acidity and tart lemony fruit that hits immediately. Along with the brazen lemon, there are flavors of firm yellow apple and green herbs. So incredibly satisfying. The nose displays dried apricot, spiced pear, and raw Earl Grey tea. Much more subtle than the activity on the palate. I also don't typically suggest serving a white wine very, very cold, but pour yourself a glass when right out of the fridge. It's delicious at all temps. David Hatzopoulos
Pecorino from guyot trained vines planted to clay and limestone soils in the region of Atri in Abruzzo. Harvest is done by hand in the middle of September. In the cellar, primary fermentation is spontaneous in stainless steel tanks before malo occurs. The wine is not filtered and is aged in bottle for 10-12 months before leaving the winery. The wine has a beautiful color, displaying a yellow-gold perimeter around a clear-gold center. Aromas of candied lemon, tangerine peel, clove and thinly shaved Parmesan on the nose. Flavors are of lemon, limestone, a medley of bitter herbs, and salt. Like the 2018 Trebbiano from Ausonia, this Pecorino has extremely compelling acidity that hits a high caliber without stressing the palate. Here, there is a little bit of tannic structure as well, completing the wine's mouthfeel in a satisfying form. David Hatzopoulos
From guyot trained Montepulciano vines planted to clay and limestone soils. Picked by hand in the first half of October. Primary fermentation begins with skin contact for 15 days in stainless steel tanks before malo. Wine is bottled unfiltered. Against my white notebook paper, the wine has a core of very dark purple, with a lighter shade around the rim. The nose is a blast, packed full of an array of fruits and earth. Fragrant aromas of summer peach, strawberry, and cherry create a lush base for more subtle accents of sun-dried tomato and loamy, cool earth. On the palate, there is plummy dark fruit and red cherry, with a touch of dark mineral zest. The wine is tannic, a touch more so than I anticipated, with good grip balanced by medium acidity. If you're looking for a new house red, this bottle from Ausonia could very well be your answer. Lots of flavor, structured but drinkable, and under $20. David Hatzopoulos
From guyot trained Montelpulciano vines planted in clay and limestone soils. Fruit is picked by hand in the beginning of October. A portion of the wine macerates for 5-6 days to get color and structure. Alcoholic fermentation begins spontaneously in stainless steel tanks, followed by malo. The wine is a shade of deep cherry, reflecting the flavors and structure of this fantastic rosato. On the nose, there are full aromas of strawberry, cherry, raspberry and a hint of mocha. The palate has similar flavors of mixed red berries, with an additional accent of wild herbs. A touch of acidity freshens the wine's full texture. On the first day I had the bottle open, the wine was gentle with a soft richness. On the second day, the wine became pleasantly juicy. An expressive, flavorful, but thirst-quenching member of the Ausonia lineup. David Hatzopoulos