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Miriam Masciarelli: Growing Up In A Winery In Abruzzo

February 21, 2021
Miriam Masciarelli (left) with her mother and siblings

When I asked Miriam Masciarelli, a third-generation Italian winemaker, when she first got interested in wines, she said that she literally grew up in the family business. 

From the age of ten, Miriam tagged along with her father attending wine fairs and tastings before she left home to study economics and management at the University of Rome. “I didn’t start drinking wine until I was 18,” she says (although drinking is legal in Italy from the age of 16).

The oldest daughter in the family, she also worked at restaurants while in high school, and spent time in New York working in public relations and for a wine importer (also perfecting her English). 

Along with a small group of journalists, I recently had the chance to “meet” and speak with Miriam during a virtual wine-tasting sponsored by Masciarelli Tenute Agricole in Abruzzo, hosted by Dana Bruneau  of Cuvée & Co.

It offered a chance to learn about the region, the winery and the impressive woman who has played a major role in the success of the brand.

About Abruzzo: Diverse and authentic

The Apennines In Abruzzo (credit: Pixabay)

Abruzzo is a region in central Italy tucked between the Apennine Mountains and the Adriatic coast. Under ordinary circumstances (pre-pandemic), it welcomes visitors throughout most of the year, known for excellent ski resorts in the mountains and its seaside beaches.

While only two hours northeast of Rome by car, the region has remained relatively undiscovered by foreign tourists. It is considered one of the greenest and most biodiverse areas of Italy, abundant with lakes, and small towns and villages dotting its hillsides and valleys. 

The region has four provinces: L’Aquila (its capital, which was severely damaged by an earthquake in 2009), Pescara, Teramo and Chieti, each with their own traditions.

Masciarelli vineyard at harvest time

Masciarelli vineyard at harvest time (credit: Masciarelli Winery)

Abruzzo’s wine roots date back to the 4th century. Known for quantity rather than quality, the wines were considered mostly table wines. However, some 40-50 years ago, there was a renewed interest in producing quality wines and visionary Gianni Masciarelli set a new standard for Montepulciano wines that garnered international recognition.

About the Masciarelli Winery

One vineyard at the Masciarelli Winery

One vineyard at the Masciarelli Winery (credit: Masciarelli)

The 40-year-old Masciarelli Winery is located at the foot of a mountain in the small town of San Martino sulla Marrucina (province of Chieti). Perched about 15 minutes from the Apennines and 20 minutes from the sea, the town has only about 800 inhabitants. 

The winery doesn’t buy grapes from other vineyards, using only those it grows. Owning 60 parcels of vineyards and olive groves spread over all four provinces of Abruzzo allows the winery to create products that showcase the different terroirs of the region. “Our vineyards are like gardens, functional, not fancy,” says Miriam. 

The winery was started by Miriam’s grandfather, an artisanal producer. “But it was my father who was the revolutionary,” she says. When Gianni Masciarelli was twenty, he traveled to Champagne, France to become a seasonal grape picker. When he returned in 1981, he became the first producer to introduce the Guyot training system (with vertical shoots) and the use of French oak aging barrels to Abruzzo. Gianni’s goal was to produce high-quality, world-class wines using local grapes.

“Now it’s trendy and cool to be a winemaker but it wasn’t then,” says Miriam. “My father took a risk. He was an innovator.”

In addition to his hard work and commitment to excellence, love and romance also played an important role in the successful evolution of the winery. Gianni met his wife, Marina Cvetic, who was half Serbian and half Croatian, through his relationship with her father, a cooper. Their marriage in 1987 grew into a personal and professional partnership.

Since Gianni’s premature passing in 2008, at the age of 53, the winery has been largely operated by Miriam and her mom. It now boasts 18 labels and five product lines, the Classic Line, Gianni Masciarelli, Villa Gemma, Marina Cvetic, and Castello di Semivicoli. It is considered a leader in the production of Montepulciano and Trebbiano d’Abruzzo wines.

The winery sells about 50% of its wines within Italy and the rest is sold abroad, primarily elsewhere in Europe and in Asia. Its Montepulciano has also become popular in the U.S., imported by Vintus.

The Masciarelli wine tasting

Wine cellar with old casks at the Masciarelli Winery

Wine cellar with old casks at the Masciarelli Winery (credit Masciarelli Winery)

Miriam Masciarelli introduced four Masciarelli wines at the virtual tasting:

Marina Cvetic Trebbiano d’Abruzzo Riserva 2018

Abruzzo has more than 50 varieties of Trebbiano grapes but historically, they had a reputation for being inferior, not really suitable for fine wines. Gianni challenged that notion creating a wine that is one of the best representations of these grapes. Moreover, this white wine of excellent quality (rated 93 by Wine Enthusiast) can stay in the cellar for years. It is aged 12 months in oak barrels, followed by 12 months in the bottle.

Made of 100% Trebbiano d’Abruzzo, Marine Cvetic Trebbiano Riserva is powerful and full-bodied, and tastes like a full-bodied red. It pairs well with white meats, risotto and aged cheese.

Marina Cvetic Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Riserva 2016

Made with 100% Montepulciano d’Abruzzo grapes, this wine comes from a blend of eight of the estate’s top parcels crossing different altitudes and with different soils. It is considered one of the region’s most noble wines. Fermentation in stainless steel for 15-20 days is followed by a maceration lasting 20-30 days, followed by 12-18 months aging in first passage French barrels.

With hints of black fruit, spice tar and licorice, Marina Cvetic Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Riserva is considered food-friendly, pairing nicely with seafood or barbecued meats.

Marina Cvetic ISKRA 2015

Marina Cvetic ISKRA is a bold, ruby red wine made from Montepulciano grapes, harvested from a single-vineyard cru in Controguerra, in the province of Teramo. ISKRA is the Serbian name for spark, and the wine is one among the line that Gianni dedicated to Miriam’s mother.

With vivid notes of blackberries, plums, blueberries, and black currant, the wine pairs well with lamb, stewed meats, and spicy Asian dishes, as well as a variety of cheeses.

Villa Gemma Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Riserva 2014

This was the most precious of the wines of those we tasted. It is the only Italian wine with 14 consecutive Tre Bicchieri awards and put Abruzzo wines on the map. With grapes harvested from a 40-year-old vineyard located 10 minutes away from the winery, it is a brand new import to the U.S. 

Villa Gemma Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Riserva is powerful, and intense in character and complexity. It is made from 100% Montepulciano grapes from vineyards farmed sustainably using the traditional Abruzzo Pergola method. The wine pairs well with game, red meat and aged cheeses. In a recent review of Montepulciano wines, Wine Spectator ranked it at the top of the list with a rating of 94. It can certainly be enjoyed now but Miriam, who was put in charge of this wine in 2012 and oversees the vinification and aging process, says it should be even more amazing ten years from now. 

This was a wonderful introduction to these regional wines enhanced by the story of the exceptional family behind the labels.

Continuing the family legacy

Villa Gemma Montepulciano d'Abruzzo Riserva

Villa Gemma Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Riserva (credit: Masciarelli Winery)

Miriam Masciarelli and her mom, Marina Cvetic, had big shoes to fill in a country where men dominate the wine industry. But their shared leadership has resulted in increased production and sales, continuing to elevate the reputation of the Masciarelli wines around the globe.

NB: In addition. females aren’t only at the top, female employees comprise 54% of the winery’s workforce.

Disclosure: We were wine-tasting guests of Cuvée & Co. but any opinions expressed in this post are our own.



Castello di Semivicoli: Stay at a castle

The magical Castello di Semivicoli at the Masciarelli Wintery

The magical Castello di Semivicoli


Entrance to the wine resort

Entrance to the wine resort (credit: Masciarelli Winery)

Castello di Semivicoli is the family’s 11-room, boutique wine resort—a 17th century castle surrounded by vineyards and olive groves. Visitors can relax and enjoy the bucolic setting or laze by the pool. But it’s likely they’ll also want to participate in bespoke outdoor wine tastings, picnics, guided tours of the vineyards and/or cooking classes, all of which are offered by the property.

Sitting some 365 meters above sea level, the castle is located in the hamlet of Semivicoli (in the town of Casacanditella, province of Chieti. It is perfect for an intimate destination wedding or weekend or midweek stay to explore the area.

Additional information on Abruzzo tourism

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