Abruzzo is the land of Montepulciano. The grape Montepulciano; which is sometimes confused with the Sangiovese based wine from the town of Montepulciano in Tuscany called Vino Nobile Di Montepulciano. Nice and confusing. Whenever you are at an Italian restaurant there is at least one or two Montepulciano D’ Abruzzo on the list with one by the glass and one higher end usually deeper in the list. This is Abruzzo’s calling card. It’s Shinning light save for a memorable Trebbiano (white wine) or two.

Until now.

Ladies and gentlemen I would like to introduce you to Orlandi Contucci Ponno. One of the few wineries in this region to make their bones on wines other than Montepulciano. Oh, they have the region’s darling in bottle and it is very good. We actually have it by the glass at In Vino and it is a classic expression of the varietal. May I present the wine, Liburnio. But before we get into what it is and why it is so awesome here is a quick background because when you spend a somewhat pretty penny on a bottle isn’t it nice to have a few fun facts in your head when presenting the wine or sharing it?

The Orlandi Contucci Ponno winery has been around for quite some time being established in 1805. Marina Orlandi Contucci who now owns the sixty-seven acre farm is a bit more forward thinking than her kin from back in the day. She spends a lot of her time in Bordeaux enjoying the wonderful blends of the Gironde year round. At a certain point she realized that the soils on her farm were quite similar to the soils of certain Bordeaux areas. After some testing and some clone experimentation she decided to not only plant Montepulciano but Malbec, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot; all varietals from in and around the Bordeaux region. Oh and we can’t forget good ol’ cab franc. So we have a female wine owner in Italy breaking with tradition on a geek-driven lark to plant grapes that have probably never seen the soils of Abruzzo. That is very cool. What’s even cooler is that the wines that her and oenologist Donato Lanati are making are resulting in very small yields. In total the winery produces only about 5000 cases a year. That’s pretty small. This is definitely a business run on passion. And it shows in the wine.

Okay. Let’s get to it. The special occasion wine of the week is the 1999 Liburnio from Orlandi Contucci Ponno in Abruzzo, Italy. The name is, according to the winery, the title given to a people that were once pirates (I Liburni) off the coast of Abruzzo who gave in at some point in history to become farmers of the land. The blend is pretty unique; it is made up of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec and Petite Verdot. This is not your typical Abruzzo blend. But man is it a beautiful wine. It has been sitting in the bottle almost a decade so all the austere intensity has passed to give a deep, rustic, powerfully smooth presentaion.

The color is a deep red with hints of dark rust around the edges. When then wine is swirled it calmly clings to the walls of the glass indicating that its time in bottle helped to soften the massive structure of the blend while not completely breaking it down. But the nose, people! The nose is what I fell in love with when I first experienced Liburnio. Sniff this beauty and you will have leather and tobacco with notes of dried roses comfortably wafting up you r nasal passage. The aroma is dusty and almost ancient. This is classic Old World wine.

On the palate that leathery, tobacco element continues from the nose swimming through the body of the wine. There is a wonderful askewed quality to the Liburnio. In a world were wines are often judged based on their forced perfection this bottle allows me to breathe a sigh of relief. It is deep and smooth and rustic with a prominent earthiness within its power letting you know that the producer let Nature have her way with this one. It is a food wine and a contemplative wine. It is a wine that was born out of pure respect for the varietals that were used to build it. Maria and Donato are true alchemists cultivating wines that express their sense of place. The grapes grown on Marina’s property are there not because they are cash cows but because she did her homework and found clones that would be right at home in Abruzzo. And man, did it work. Liburnio is $47 and worth every penny. So if you are thanking someone for something or having an intimate dinner with people who dig and appreciate wine this is the one for you. It is unique and wonderful and most importantly…geeky. Cheers.


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