Abruzzo Italy, a region on the rise

by Nick Harman - Saturday July 15, 2017 5:07 pm

Nun’s naughty bits, a wine that’s not a cheese, wine boxes that aren’t square and vino that flows from a drinking fountain, Nick finds Abruzzo is an Italian region that’s full of surprises.

“They’re called ‘Nun's’ Breasts’, “Sise delle Monache”, says Valentina di Camillo unveiling a tray of freshly made pastries in the garden overlooking her family’s vineyards. The origins of the pastry’s name are vague, they were first called ‘Three Mountains’ owing to their triple peaks but the new name came about when a nun... well, let’s leave it there.

The cakes are unique; only made in this particular part of Abruzzo and the wines that Valentina and her brother Luigi manage and market at Tenuta I Fauri  wines are special too.

Of course I drink lot of her excellent Montepulciano (not to be confused with the town of Montepulciano in Siena), but also a lesser known Abruzzo white wine called Pecorino.

When I first heard this mentioned, I assumed someone was talking about cheese. Pecorino is the slightly cheaper cousin of Parmesan but a wine called Pecorino?

Valentina tells me that the Italian word for sheep is pecora. When the sheep descended each year from the mountain to the coast, they’d eat these grapes on the way down.

It’s a wine they drink every day here. Made from the ancient Pecorino grape, the wine is pale straw colour, fresh tasting with a bit of citrus on the nose and a mineral ‘tang’ on the palate, great with light pasta dishes.

And it partners well with hard sheep cheeses and cured meats, so it’s a perfect aperitif wine too.

A fountain of wine

Down at Dora  Sarchese they’ve installed a wine fountain in the grounds to offer a  free thirst- quenching drink 24 hours a day as a gift to pilgrims on the Cammino di San Tommaso way.

It is not an open invitation to party animals though, says family patriarch Domenico D’Auria as we go inside to try some ‘proper’ red, his Rosso Macchia.

He’s a lovely genial man and all the wines I try with him are excellent, especially his Esmery’s, a fine sparkling wine that once again gives me cause to wonder why Champagne gets all the good press.

Still, no time to stop and casting a wistful glance back at the fountain, it’s off to De Sipio for some more sipping.

Tasting and troughing

Nicola Di Sipio’s family not so long ago worked as labourers in the very vineyards he now owns, thanks to his E100 Million a year car part business.

The ultra-modern winery, beautifully integrated into the stunning landscape, produces 120,000 bottles a year of sparkling wine, white and rosé as well Montepulciano, Riesling, Falanghina, Cerasuolo and Trebbiano.

His wild-haired daughter Giulia takes me through all of them, with a small dish of food to accompany each. Beautiful dishes, superb wines. The Di Sipio Brut Rose with buffalo mozzarella and black truffle is a joy.

That night we go to a small restaurant in Bucchianico, once the ice house of the village, called La Neviera . Here we drink wines to go with the modern, and accomplished cooking of the chef.

Wines such as Dora Sarchese’s cheeringly crunchy Pecorino, as well as a thunderingly good Trebbiano Nicola Di Sipio Reserva from her own vineyard. We leave in a jolly mood, well after the village has gone to sleep.

Life’s a beach

The Adriatic coast here is 16 km of beach and I rather wish I had the time to lie down for a bit, but instead it’s off to Pescara Zaccagnini in Bolognano, about half an hour’s drive inland.

This winery sits on the edge of  a giant bowl of land, the wind is constant and powerful as I look out over the vineyards and at the giant yellow chicken out in the fields, one of the installed artworks.

We take a golf cart for a hair-raising ride to the tasting room set amid the vines. Here amongst many we try the Clematis, made from Montepulciano grapes that have been allowed to wither in the vineyards.

Another stand-out is the Yamada, Japanese for “Mountain field”. A Pecorino bursting with citrusy aromas, and the Aster Rose, made from 100% Montepulciano grapes and bone dry with an attractive creamy effervescence that shouts to be drunk at wedding receptions on perfect summer days.

Getting high in Abruzzo

In Abruzzo no matter how high you drive there always seems to be another beautiful village town looking down on you.

It takes quite a while to get to Calascio, one of the highest, with the road becoming thinner, more unkempt and worryingly lacking in barriers with every kilometre that passes.

It has a small restaurant, the Rifugio della Rocca clinging to the rock where the pasta with rabbit is fantastic, as is a bottle of Marina Cvetic, a classic Montepulciano - a real Poldark of a wine, brooding, intense and best kept well clear of your loved ones.

Fortified I climb on wobbling legs higher still to the ruined fortress above where the views are magnificent and far reaching.

Part of a defence system centuries old, the fort would see any trouble coming far off and light beacons to warn the next fort along. Perhaps it is telling the vineyards I am on my way.

Box Clever

‘Even the cardboard outer is assembled by machines, in a glass case under nitrogen,’ Daniele Pasquali of Platinum Italia wines tells me proudly. Seeing my sceptical face, he then explains why he thinks boxes are the future.

For a start, it’s the convenience. A glass of wine in perfect condition whenever you want it. He says that once the tap is unsealed the wine will last at least 60 days and be as good as the day it was opened.

Also a wine box is easily recycled and the packaging adds no weight to the dustbin, which is good news for world’s refuse men.

The wine comes straight from giant tanks and is bagged under nitrogen, at no point does the wine meet the air, while the bags are triple layered medical grade bags with special seams and corners to make them strong and airtight.

The tap, like the bag, is a unique design which aerates the wine as it pours out, achieving in seconds what might otherwise take an hour in a newly opened bottle.

The family only began making wine some eight years ago, before that they always sold their grapes to winemakers. It was a dream to make their own, hence their first wine was called Sogno the Italian for dream

In the tasting room I taste Sogno Montepulciano from the bottle and then the same from the box. I really can tell no difference at all.  I’m convinced and so forget once again to spit.

The  family controls every aspect of production and are eco-farmers, using no chemical fertilisers, and plenty of green manures. Weeding and harvest is done by hand and vegetable compost is laid on thick to reduce water loss.

The result is Montepulciano, Pecorino and Trebbiano wines that can lay claim to be among the best in the area.

And one final lunch before heading back to Rome and it’s very special. Borgo Fonte Scura is the restaurant of a gorgeous hillside hotel that’s being prepped for a wedding when we arrive. The sun is glowing down out of a cloudless sky and so we go inside where we can enjoy the view and the air conditioning simultaneously.

It’s a fitting end to my visit. Course after course of perfectly judged food from Daniele D'Alberto, a young local chef clearly going places, food that blends tradition with modern techniques and Instagram friendly looks.

Which rather sums up Abruzzo, a place where food and wine are as enjoyed just as passionately as they are across Italy, but where the people are only now beginning to reach out to the world to show just what they’ve got.

Visit the Abruzzo Wine Showcase Bar to enjoy wines from thebeautiful Abruzzo region of Italy

Sheldon Square Amphitheatre

Sunday 16th July - Friday 21st July

Open daily from 12 - 9pm

Ryanair  and Alitalia fly to Pescara on the Abruzzo coast, the perfect base for exploring the region.

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