Abrusco is an ancient red wine grape varietal planted mainly in the Tuscany region of Italy, where it plays a blending role in the traditional 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 published documents from 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 research notes the grape was used to add a deep, dark red colour to the traditional Tuscan wines.

 

The phylloxera crisis severely damaged vineyards and after partly recovering, Abrusco again underwent a devastating decline which has still not been reversed. 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, crafting 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 permitted in several D.O.C and D.O.C.G regions across Tuscany, most notably in Chianti D.O.C.G. These include the Capalbio D.O.C 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 final blend). Abrusco grapes which are destined for D.O.C 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 D.O.C designation, the finished rosé wine must reach a minimum alcohol level of at least 10.5% alcohol by volume, and 11% for the red wines.
In the Orcia D.O.C area that lies between 'Brunello di Montalcino' and 'Vino Nobile di Montepulciano'. Abrusco is permitted with other local grapes 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 D.O.C based around the Rufina sub-district of the Chianti wine 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 D.O.C wine production are limited to yields of 10.5 tonnes/ha with the finished wines having at least 12% Alc./vol.
A 'Riserva' wine can be produced from this D.O.C - from wines that have been aged for a minimum of 3 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 D.O.C.G wines, Abrusco is allowed along with other local red varietals to make up to 10% of the blend along with Sangiovese (75-100%). Its use is far less common in Chianti Classico D.O.C.G - though technically still allowed. Grapes destined for Chianti D.O.C.G production must be harvested at yields no greater than 8 tonnes/ha - and the finished wine needs to achieve a minimum of at least 12% Alc/vol. to achieve D.O.C.G status.