Appearing from a cut in a steep descending valley, the soft blue of the Adriatic sea blends seamlessly into the sky. It’s warm, the starkness of the high altitudes have receded, replaced now by a luscious landscape of vegetation, vineyard and tight cropped villages and towns bustling with life and activity. This is I am told, the “garden of Italy”.
The famous red wine from Abruzzo is made from the montepulciano grape. I have heard this compared to cabernet sauvignon for is dark, rich and lean qualities. There is very little resemblance between the cheap montepulciano wine in your local supermarket and the wines that are crafted by the serious winemakers we have come here to meet. These wines have a depth of character that speaks to the drinker in terms of cherry, spices and dark chocolate. Often rich, layered and perfect for pairing with the heavier food dishes that grace the tables of the inland people of Abruzzo.
It’s a delight to be perched high up in the hills with broad sweeping views falling away literally from our feet. Here we are served ravioli stuffed with local pecorino cheese in tomato sauce. On the same plate a very simple but sublime tagliatelle dish with rabbit, herbs and gorgeous local chilli olive oil. Each mouthful of pasta is complimented beautifully by the dark rich fruit of the montepulciano and the firm gripping tannins that clean the palate leaving it fresh and wanting for another forkful.
Trebianno and Pecorino
Trebbiano is a mass market grape variety that pleases easily. It’s a simple grape without pretensions. Refreshing on a hot day by the beach or pool but perhaps too simple for the dinner table. Enter stage left the grape variety pecorino.
I have to admit that the prospect of tasting the pecorino wine (yes, same name as the cheese) was a big motivator to wanting to come to Abruzzo. This is very much a regional grape produced in not so large quantities as trebbiano. It has a richness which can be blended very well with trabianno or, better still, to produce as a single variety.
Pecorino wine can pair easily with a huge range of foods, lending some sweetness to a serving of mozzarella or perfectly countering the saltiness in Parma ham. The characteristics I noted frequently were: light tropical fruit, citrus, mineral and lively acidity. I’m a big fan.
We tasted some delicious refreshing rosé wines from Abruzzo. These were labeled Cerasulo d’Abruzzo DOC. The legal requirements are that the wine contains 85% montepulciano and 15% of other red non-aromatic varieties.
Mass market wine drinkers love rosé and the appeal of these wines is easy to see. The intense summer fruit aromas give way to a dry, softer wine with a pleasant finish. None of the saccharine wince-worthy finishes that poorer rosés can leave us with.
A sweeping pleasing view
The advantage of visiting the region where the wines are produced is that we get a chance to breathe in the landscape, to taste the local food, absorb the ambiance and immerse ourselves in the expression of the local culture. When I taste the wines back home in London I am quietly hoping for an evocation of the spirit of place. There is a signature in the wines of Abruzzo that is unavoidably appealing to wine lovers and occasional drinkers alike.
Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is already widely available in the UK. It is really worth buying the finer wines that are on offer. The taste difference from the mass market wines is substantial and give the drinker much more pleasure.
When it comes to pecorino I can see this grape variety is gradually making its presence felt in Britain. Only recently I was in my local wine shop and a lady walked in and asked specifically for a bottle. Sadly they had none... yet!! Pecorino is a must try for white wine lovers and foodies alike. It’s a versatile grape variety with different expressions of fruit and richness. If you haven’t already, make a note to taste it.
I have provided extra information on the wineries we visited as they really were fabulous. This information is avilable here: Abruzzo winery tasting notes
Fontana della vita
The region has its own ancient camino that draws the faithful through these hills each year. At the winery, Dora Sarchese, pilgrims are invited to drink from the fontana del vino, literally a wine fountain. As I tasted from the fountain the sound of hands and feet scrabbling over the high passes filled my mind and I too felt like a journeyman. Would I return to pay my respects? Of course… the people are friendly, the winemakers, the chefs, the views and the beaches. This is a hidden haven for pleasure and discovery.
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