Abrusco is an Italian red wine grape varietal grown primarily in the Tuscany region where it plays a blending role in the classic wines of Chianti. Abrusco is an old varietal with its name having Latin origins, meaning that it has been in Tuscany since Roman times. The grape has a long history in the region, though it was only first recorded in 1600, and under its synonyms Abrostino and Colore.
In the posthumously published work of the Italian agricultural expert Giovanni Vettorio Soderini (1526 -1596) - in the ‘Trattato della coltivazione delle viti’ (Treaty of cultivation of vines). Even back then in Giovanni’s notes the grape was used to add a deeper, dark red colour to traditional Tuscan wines.
The phylloxera crisis severely damaged many vineyards and after partly recovering, Abrusco again underwent a devastating decline which has still not been amended. Abrusco is a rare varietal, being close to extinction on several occasions, and with only approximately 6 hectares of planted vines - last reported in the 2000 Italian census. The Tuscan wine producer ‘Le Tre Stelle’ has worked to keep the varietal viable, producing a limited production IGT wine made of 100% Abrusco named ‘Agino’. Produced from 20 vines that were discovered growing among other varietals in an old vineyard owned by the estate. Another Tuscan producer Ferlaino is also working with the Tuscany centre of wine research and development - to produce a wine of 100% Abrusco from 0.2 hectares on their estate in Cetona, south east of Siena.
Abrusco vines are noted for growing small dark, blue-black berries, which produce wines with a deep, dark colour. Which lends itself as an ideal blending grape with other, less intensely coloured skin varietals such as Sangiovese. As a varietal, Abrusco tends to produce well-structured wines with a spicy aroma and dark fruit flavours. In Tuscany, it typically ripens in-between other red varietals - and is usually harvested between the early ripening Ciliegiolo and the late ripening Sangiovese.
Abrusco is a minor blending varietal - which is permitted in several DOC and DOCG regions across Tuscany, most notably in Chianti DOCG. These include the Capalbio DOC in the hills south of the Grosseto province where along with other local red grape varietals, Abrusco is permitted to make up to 50% of the red and rosé blend along with Sangiovese (which must make up at least 50% of the wine). Abrusco grapes which are destined for DOC wine production must be harvested with a yield no greater 10 tonnes/hectare for red wine and 12 tonnes/ha for a rosé wine. To achieve DOC designation, the finished rosé wine must reach a minimum alcohol level of at least 10.5% - and 11% alcohol by volume for the red wines.
In the Orcia DOC that lies between Brunello di Montalcino and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano zones, Abrusco is permitted with other local grape varietals to make up to 40% of the red wine blend along with Sangiovese (minimum 60%). Here grapes are limited to a maximum yield of 10 tonnes/ha with the finished wine having a minimum alcohol level of 12%.
In the Pomino DOC based around the Rufina sub-district of the Chianti zone, Abrusco is permitted along with other local red grape varietals to make up to 15% of the blend along with Sangiovese (60-75%), Canaiolo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc (collectively 15-25%) and Merlot (10-20%). Grapes destined for DOC wine production are limited to yields of 10.5 tonnes/ha with the finished wines having at least 12% alcohol by volume.
A Riserva wine can be produced from this DOC - from wines that have been aged for a minimum of three years with at least 18 months being spent in oak and the finished wine having an alcohol level of at least 12.5%.
In Chianti DOCG wines, Abrusco is permitted along with other local red grape varietals to make up to 10% of the blend along with Sangiovese (75-100%). Its use is far less common in the Chianti Classico DOCG - though it is technically still allowed. Grapes destined for Chianti DOCG production must be harvested to a yield no greater than 8 tonnes/ha with the finished wines needing to achieve a minimum alcohol level of at least 12% to attain DOCG status.
DNA profiling has recently revealed Abrusco to be distinct from the Tuscan wine grape Colorino and the Emilia-Romagna grape Lambrusco. Research from Dr. José Vouillamoz (a leading botanist and grape geneticist) has also shown that Muscat Rouge de Madère, which was once thought to be a synonym of Abrusco, is in fact its own varietal.