Who hasn’t dreamed of staying in a castle in Italy? A highlight of our visit to Abruzzo in June 2023 was a visit and tasting at Castello di Semivicoli, a restored 17th century baronial estate owned by the Masciarelli Wines family. Masciarelli and the Castello should be on the itinerary for any wine lover planning a visit to Abruzzo which is located on Italy’s eastern coast, bordered by the Apennine Mountains and the Adriatic Sea.
Masciarelli: A Pioneer in Modern Abruzzo Viticulture
Gianni Masciarelli founded his namesake winery in 1981 with 2.5 hectares (6.2 acres) near the family home, Villa Gemma, in San Martino sulla Marrucina (Chieti province). Still in his 20s, Masciarelli drew upon his experience working vineyards in Burgundy and Champagne where he gained an appreciation for producing elegant wines with long aging potential.
Throughout his life, Masciarelli worked to elevate the image of Abruzzo wines. He introduced several developments such as converting vineyards to the Guyot training system and using French barrels for aging. He implemented sustainable farming practices, hand harvesting and reducing yields. He also introduced the first screw cap to Abruzzo.
Masciarelli remains the only producer in Abruzzo making estate-grown wines from all four provinces: Chieti, Pescara, Teramo and l’Aquila. Total production today is close to 2.5 million bottles with 22 labels.
We visited the modern facility built in 2020 which sits across the street from Villa Gemma. Two striking characteristics of this new winery are its starlit underground cellar (see photo) and a commanding view of the Grand Sasso Mountains – the highest peaks in the boot of Italy and part of the Apennine Range.
Sadly, Gianni suddenly passed away in 2008. His wife, Marina Cvetić, and eldest daughter, Miriam Lee Masciarelli, continue his work. Cvetić (“SVET-itch”) is the daughter of a Serbian cooper (barrel maker). Following her marriage to Gianni, she worked as commercial director at Masciarelli, handling sales and marketing. Attilo Alfino has served as lead winemaker for more than a decade, and Carlo Ferrini is consulting enologist. Marco di Giovanni, manager for Castello Semivicoli, arranged a wine tasting for us.
Here are recommendations from our tasting. The U.S. importer is Vintus.
Masciarelli Trebbiano d’Abruzzo D.O.C. 2022 is a medium- bodied white with nice acidity, a touch of salinity and balanced minerality. SRP: $15
Villa Gemma Teatine Bianco D.O.C. 2022 is a tank-fermented white blend of Trebbiano d’Abruzzo, Pecorino and Cococciola from four vineyards. Pecorino adds floral and fruit notes plus minerality. Cococciola offers herbaceous characteristics. This wine had a nice balance of fruit, citrus and acidity. SRP: $20
Masciarelli Rosato I.G.T. Colline Teatine Superiore 2022. For this rosé, grapes are macerated on skin for five to six hours. The color is deep pink with blue undertones. The aromatics and palate deliver notes of ripe strawberry and rhubarb. SRP $14
Villa Gemma Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo D.O.C. Superiore 2022 is like a light red. The color is deep rose. Flavors are cherry and red berry. Nice acidity. SRP: $20
Marina Cvetić Bianco D.O.C. Riserva Trebbiano d’Abruzzo 2021 (Chieti). By regulation this riserva may be released the first of May after the vintage. This wine is aged one year in French oak with lees contact for one-year and weekly bâtonnage. This wine exudes flavors of eucalyptus, spice, guava, chamomile, and white and yellow flowers. SRP: $60
Marina Cvetić Montepulciano d’Abruzzo D.O.C. Riserva 2019 sources grapes from four cru vineyards located in San Martino Sulla Marrucina. The wine is aged in new French barrique for 12-18 months. The color is a dark blackish red delivering aromas and flavors of black cherry and cocoa with a light piquant note and soft tannin. SRP: $30
Marina Cvetić ISKRA Montepulciano d’Abruzzo D.O.C. 2017 is Gianni Masciarelli’s love letter to his wife. The name of the wine means “spark” in Cvetić’s native Serbian This is a cru reserve from Teramo aged 18 months in oak. This wine is only released in prime harvests, and the first release was the 2003 vintage. It’s elegant, delivering dark cherry, cacao and herbal notes with balanced tannins and a long finish. SRP: $38
Villa Gemma Montepulciano d’Abruzzo D.O.C. Riserva 2018 is Masciarelli’s signature cru wine and the only Italian wine with 14 consecutive Tre Bicchieri awards. Introduced in 1984, Villa Gemma was the first reserve-level red wine from Abruzzo; a premium white blend followed a year later. Villa Gemma grapes are sourced from the family’s original 12-acre Colle Cave “home vineyard” which dates to 1930. Aging is five to six years in new French barrique before bottling. This is a plush, elegant wine with dense berry and spicy notes. SRP $95
A stay at the Castello di Semivicoli
The Castello has 11 rooms, and all are different. One of the more popular rooms is the Junior Suite Monastero which has a private and hidden secret passage to the adjacent church of Semivicoli. Like with many older buildings in Europe, air conditioning in the warmer months and heat in the colder may be less than adequate. There is an elevator to the rooms. but some have a small set of stars leading up to their doors. Ask about the floor plan, accessibility, and available options.
Dining & Culinary Experiences
Castello Semivicoli offers on-site dining only for its guests. Breakfast included fresh bread, cereals, and fruit. Dinner at La Tavola di Gianni on the ground level was a more elaborate affair. Chef Mario Di Giovanni prepares contemporary native Abruzzo dishes using seasonal ingredients. One thing we appreciated was how well spaced out the tables were to allow for private conversation. The restaurant hours are 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Make sure to schedule a wine tasting and tour of the Castello in advance. Inquire about cooking classes and other excursions which may be offered seasonally.
The Castello is open March-December. Reservations can be made directly through the website and through booking.com and other travel sites. We always recommend booking directly to ask questions about the venue, rooms and special experiences that may not be listed on a booking site. It is always a good way to make personal connections and convey any special interests or needs for your stay.
The picturesque medieval village Guardiagrele in Chieti is in the foothills of the Maiella Mountains and has a panoramic view. In fact, the poet, Gabriele d’Annunzio called Guardiagrele “La Terraza d’Abruzzo” (Abruzzo’s terrace). A local guide pointed out some of the more historic structures, including the church of Santa Maria Maggiore and the “Porti di San Giavanni” old city door.
The Costa dei Trabocchi is a stretch of seaside in the Chieti province offering lush vegetation and hiking/cycling paths. For an experience unique to this region, have dine in a traditional “trabocchi.” A narrow pathway and bridge will lead you to one of these shack-like stilted structures built over the water. Historically, trabocchi were used as fishing facilities along the Abruzzo and Marche coasts. We dined over the water tasting a selection of fresh seafood dishes paired with Abruzzo wines, including a new category of Abruzzo sparkling wines.