- Abruzzo, Italy
Praesidium is a 7-hectare estate in the Peligna Valley, the genetic birthplace of the Montepulciano grape. Enzo Pasquale, his wife Lucia, and their kids, Antonia and Ottaviano, are the last winegrowers of the village of Prezza. The village itself sits on a rocky outcropping that has a near-360° view of the surroundings. It makes sense, then, that the name Prezza comes from the Latin verb praeesse (to preside), and that the village was the “Praesidium” (defense garrison) of the Peligni tribe, an Italic people who eventually acquiesced to Rome.
Praesidium is also one of the main reasons I’m selling wine today. They’re responsible for my first real lightbulb, epiphanic “wine moment.” Every once in a while someone asks me, if I were to become a wine director, which estates I would have to have on the wine list, my list of heartthrobs. I usually struggle to answer—there’s so much great wine out there. But, Praesidium would make the cut, without a doubt. This one’s personal.
In 2002 and 2003 I lived in L’Aquila, the capital of Abruzzo.
When meeting people all around Italy, I would be asked, “L’Aquila? That’s in Abruzzo, right? What are you doing there?!” The answer to that question is a story for another time; I’m still not sure even I fully know.
I know I was playing and teaching music, and that I was young and broke. Wine was a simple accompaniment to a meal, nothing to think much about—it was on most tables in Italy twice a day, right? The €2 supermarket Montepulciano from a co-op was doing us just fine. A few years earlier in school in the States I had friends who ironically, but happily, showed up to parties with jugs of Carlo Rossi ‘Paisano.’ I didn’t turn down those pours.
Someone I must have trusted told me that a rowdy bar called Ju Boss (Abruzzese dialect for il Boss!) had the greatest collection of the wines of Abruzzo in a back room. Was that possible? The same place that served hard-boiled eggs and where every night it seemed fights broke out, spilling into the streets? Going from Ju Boss the bar to Ju Boss the enoteca was like going from C.B.G.B. to the set of Masterpiece Theatre.
I asked the guy working there for a recommendation. He steered me to the Praesidium Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Riserva. I don’t remember the vintage, because that wouldn’t have been something on my radar at the time. The bottle seemed heavy and impenetrably dark. There was a wax seal near the neck and a symbol of a castle on the label. It seemed special enough. I was told to open it an hour before and drink it with an aged pecorino.
To spend 20-something Euros on this bottle of Praesidium was a departure for me, a real splurge and a considerable expense at the time. I drank it with some friends from my apartment building. They didn’t really care for it, but it stopped me in my tracks. Until then, I didn’t know wine could do that—its intensity, its earthiness, its originality, and its seamlessness with an aged, almost funky cheese were startling. Yes, it was delicious, but the experience was more jolting than that.
In 2007 I was on tour and we played L’Aquila, in a theater that was a deconsecrated church built in the 900s. I went back to Ju Boss’ cantina. Now I recognized some other great bottles from other great producers. I picked up another bottle of Praesidium. This time I remember the vintage—2001. This time I opened the bottle several hours before, leaving it open in our hotel room. This time I got an even stronger pecorino. Now I knew how to love the wine.
Fast forward to 2011, fully bitten by and smitten with the wine bug, at a house party in Rome. It was the book release celebration for a writer whose focus was vini naturali. My Roman Holiday was coming to a close and I was about to head back to NYC to start a “real job” at a brand new wine importer/distributor. I saw some bottles of Praesidium at the party and said to a friend, “I love these wines. I wish I could somehow sell them in New York.” He said, “Talk to Ottaviano. That’s him right there. Yeah, right there. That’s the Praesidium guy. He’s super nice.”
He was, indeed, super nice. I couldn’t believe this humble, soft-spoken guy was responsible for such mind-blowing wines. It was the beginning of a long connection, which sometimes took different, but parallel, paths. Like some cousins, we didn’t always call, we didn’t always write. Yet I always felt like Praesidium’s ambassador on my side of the ocean.
Meticulous organic farming, a protracted growing season, low yields, long aging in cellars carved into the mother rock of Prezza, and late release all combine beautifully to express the power and freshness of this continental, mountainous terroir.
The Pasquales are a lovely close-knit family, quietly doing things their way without compromise, since 1988. I am thrilled to re-introduce their wines.
-Kevin Russell, Italy Portfolio Manager