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High in the Apennine mountains in Abruzzo, not far from the Grande Sasso range, you will find Prezza. As you approach the village that somehow manages to attach itself to the vertiginous slopes of the eponymous mountain, just marvel at the ingenuity of the men that built this vertical hamlet. Below it lies the Valle Peligna, 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 your brain may 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 relying on what is termed spontaneous fermentation.
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 to me that this Riserva 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. This is a wine to be enjoyed with the strong balancing flavours of mature cheese or game meats.
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 we 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.