Travaasa Austin Certified Sommelier, Edward Morgan, embarked on a two-week long journey through Italy, learning the intricacies of Italian winemaking along the way. His adventure has taken him through Piedmont, Veneto, Verona, Emilia Romagna, and Reggio Emilia Here is an excerpt from his incredible Italian saga highlighting his first day in the Abruzzo region.
Abruzzo, which boasts the title of “Greenest Region in Europe,” has set aside nearly one third of its territory to nature reserves, national parks and wildlife preserves. It is said that it is ensuring the survival of 75% of all of Europe’s living species. When Italian journalist and diplomat Primo Levi visited Abruzzo Italy, he amalgamated the motto of the region, “forte e gentile” which translates to strong and gentle, likely representative of the beautiful landscape and the calm demeanor of the people.
There is nothing like cruising through the Italian Coastline talking theory and trading horror stories about bad service and blind tastings to better prepare for the future. Lars, being facetious says, “No Mountains out here is there?” We haven’t had radio reception in quite some time and for the past hour, it has been nothing but asphalt and the high walls of the Apennines to keep us company.
A majority of the road to Abruzzo is paved through the Apennine Mountain range – tunnel after tunnel carving through the landscape, some as long as 10 miles. It’s extremely beautiful, a solace of sorts amidst a country of about a 60 million people. A shy Gran Sasso, the highest point of the mountain range, peaks through the clouds now and again. I understand more and more why these large formations are called weather makers. They gather the clouds and hoard them all to them selves, creating quite an arid climate in their shadow.
We arrived in Giulianova just after 3 p.m. on Saturday and settled into a charming little hotel just off the coast of the Adriatic. The Hotel 900 was renovated from a liberty mansion that dated back to the turn of the century, another quaint little establishment to hang our hats for a couple of days. The staff was polite and inviting, seeming more like the caretakers of an estate than the employees of a hotel.
We dropped our bags, changed into beach attire and met downstairs on the lawn of the courtyard where we enjoyed a few Negronis, a solid choice well suited for the day, town and climate. The warmth of the vermouth took the edge off the chill in the air, the fist of Gin woke me up and the Compari…well, the Compari was just along for the ride. We finished our cocktails and headed out…on bike this time. Seven beach cruisers, some with little baskets and bells on them, others with streamers off the handlebars. Who cares, it’s Italy and the words, “when in Abruzzo” crossed my tongue a few times as I tried to qualify the experience.
I had been waiting for this leg of the trip for some time. I am reminded of the story of Troy – Achilles’s mother fishing for pearls in the Adriatic in died blue garb, sun glinting off the crashing tide breaking against the rocks. It always looked warm, inviting, peaceful and somehow purifying in my head. The coastline was desolate this time of day and year. It was only about 60 degrees outside with a bit of a nip to the air as the sun was hanging a lower and the ocean had a chance to cool the sand and the tourists that hung around.
We arrived at the beach and immediately dove into the sea. The water was absolutely frigid and after about 30 minutes, we were all blue lipped, frozen and in need of strong drink. I began to motion towards the beach were a couple bottles of bubbly awaited us. “Fellas we gotta earn our dinner,” Lars explained. This meant waiting for Enrico to get his swim on.
I did anything I could to distract myself from the hypothermia that was coming. On a clear day, you can see all the way to Croatia from the shores of this small municipality – 50 miles off the coast of Abruzzo and you’re there. Amazing when you realize exactly where you are in the world and how far you’ve come. Yes, I mean it both ways. The Adriatic is something – a sea that holds a mountain of secrets. It holds a long history from Roman times and even the Etruscans.
We eventually made for the shore. Enrico had staged a few bottles of sparkling wine atop a fishing boat beached near the edge of the water and the cabanas. Martin was up on the Sciabola and gave us a show as he sliced open two bottles of champagne to begin our evening.
We walked across the street to Enricos estate. His house was modest considering his family’s significance in the region. Modest but by no means meager – something out of the 16th century but with a few modern touches like electricity and a tape deck record player combo. There was a lot of hand carved wood, stained glass and marble accents when appropriate, which was often.
Enrico immediately hit the kitchen and started frying up fresh tomatoes, sage and onions he picked fresh from his garden that morning. Just a little salt, pepper and bread crumbs. It was a nice intro before the meal, and the aroma of sweet herbs and Italian home cooking filled the house. He kicked on the hi-fi with an old LP of The Barber of Seville. It definitely added to the ambiance, every pop and fizzle texturizing Tito Gobbi and Maria Callas voice. It was beautiful.
We began to relax into the evening, enjoying foot long fava beans fresh out of the pods and freshly baked bread with olive oil straight from the olive groves of Enrico’s estate in Teramo. The real treat began when we retired to the grand dining room to eat. Enrico had prepared Spigola Sea bass and St. Pietra he had procured that morning at the local market. It was a bit like flounder with a fresh mackerel texture. A bit of Fried Veal with Prosciutto known locally as pietra and rockfish soup followed.
As the evening wore on, the Cerasuolo began to flow with the myriad of conversations about love, life and the intermittent interjection from Lars wanting to “Ask you a question” about how well these wines would do in the states. It was all in good fun and it felt like a group of old friends getting to know one another after some time apart.
Lars had kept calling Enrico “Un Berfigo” which means stud in Italian. He was quite a playboy with all the makings to fit the part except the ego. Enrico is a young but modest man. His English is better than many of the wine makers I had met, but he was of fewer words than most that didn’t speak a syllable. He seemed confident but not cocky, respectful and very deliberate with his words, a gentlemen and a friend.
A few of the boys played chess as the rest of us talked politics and history around the dinner table – the kind of honest fervent conversations that happen upon the table after the third or fourth glass of wine. Martin, as per the usual, ended the meal asking for the local customary alcoholic beverage of the region. Normally for Abruzzo, an amaro known as Gran Sasso was the answer, but this was in short supply so the obvious alternative was a bit of Banfi Grappa and a few shots of Fernet.
The evening ended with most of us attempting to ride back to the hotel through the narrow dim streets of Giulianova. Another magnificent day enjoying the finer faire of this coastal town I had only dreamt about and seen in old Italian movies.
Tomorrow, Temaro and the story of a small family named Cerulli of Abruzzo.