Thursday, September 06, 2012

Italy’s "Other" Coast

With summer vacation now over for most of Italians, the coastal areas are returning to a less frenetic period. There are still almost 4 million Italians on holiday (plus a few lucky Americans), but the high-season prices are down and there are a few secret places I like to go to. Much of the activity is in the vineyards, or back in the cities, where the jobs are and the concentration of population lives and works. This is one of my favorite times to go to the coast and luxuriate in the sensation of the air, sea and land. Sure it’s a little lonely, this time of the year. But the harvest is still going strong. Vegetables are ripening, the grapes are filling up with sugar and the bounty of the sea has less demand on it. Did you know right now that fishing has been slowed if not halted in some areas? According to Coldiretti, in a September 2 release, “Fishing is expected to stop at the beginning of the week including all activities from the Ionian and Tyrrhenian Sea as announced by Coldiretti ImpresaPesca, emphasizing that the provision in force until October 1st will affect the coast from Brindisi to Imperia involving seven regions, while fishing has already stopped since August 6th in the Adriatic from Pesaro to Bari.”

So while the fish can now have a vacation for the next month, to repopulate, where does one go? Sicily? The Maremma? The Ligurian coast? Calabria?

There is an area from Ortona to San Benedetto del Tronto, that if I had the time, I’d head straight for. No Languedoc for me, no Bordeaux, no Tuscany, no Piedmont. This is the time to get to a piece of Italy that has changed very little. Or rather, along with all the changes the world and Italy has seen, this area still maintains a strong identity. The produce, the protein and the wine, this is a place where one can find it all and not at a premium. Friends of mine go and continue to return there. For years I have gone there. Not lately though. Work in Tuscany has called me, and the West Coast, which for so many years I ignored, has taken me in the past few years. But the East Coast, Abruzzo all the way to the Marche border, there is a spot in my heart for this place, one that will never be eviscerated.

Part of the reason was the connection I had with a friend and the winery he was connected to. This friend, who passed away Sept 7, 2005, was from San Benedetto del Tronto and the wines from Abruzzo that he loved, starting with the Montepulciano, were not mere wines. They were extensions of his land, his identity. When he died, those wines died a little to me as well.

It’s hard to lose a friend after 30 years, especially after having traveled with him, and depended on him for my view of Italy. Since his passing, I have forged a different perspective on Italy and wine. In a way, it has enlarged. Partially because I changed my work role not too long before my friend died. My world expanded. My friend passed to another shore. As well, I needed to make a transition.

Until recently, I had carried some of his work with me. And then, as things happen in the wine business, the winery he loved in Abruzzo decided to go in another direction. At first I was hurt, thinking about all the hard work I had done for the winery in 30 years. All the cases cut, all the bottles priced, all the shelf takers, all the wine demos, wine dinners and road trips. The good times with clients and friends over many bottles of wine, sometimes at the winery. Watching the young kids grow up to take over from their father. Watching the cellarmaster grow old, watching the old winemaker pass. I had lived a life with this winery, but now it was time to move on.

I still love the region and the wines. In fact, my appreciation for Montepulciano has expanded. Instead of loving only one Montepulciano d’ Abruzzo, now I care for a handful of them. And along with them, the winemakers, their land, their projects, their dreams, their table.

Some of the wines I have been enjoying lately, if I may be so brazen as to actually recommend them, are:

Notable whites from Abruzzo

2011 Caldora unoaked Chardonnay Terre di Chieti IGT, Abruzzo
From Ortona, I did not expect the wine I put in my mouth. Retailing for under $10, a complete surprise. But knowing and loving the Ortona coast, I could imagine a platter of cicada di mare and a bottle of this wine and a soft pillow and a bouncy mattress and an endless summer of possibilities.

2010 Cantina Frentana Cococciola Terre di Chieti IGT, Abruzzo
A mouthful to say, but a wine that I enjoy often at my favorite Thai restaurant back home. Slightly spritzy (ever so) with high acidity and a sea foam and citric sensation. Great with very spicy food. Retails for around $15.

2011 Valle Reale “Vigne Nuove” Trebbiano d’Abruzzo DOC
I’m a sucker for Trebbiano, for the clean flavors, the bracing acidity and a universal drinkable nature. No great shakes, but a reliable and friendly wine. Retails for around $10

2010 La Valentina Pecorino Colline Pescaresi IGT
A little age on this wine is a good thing. Pecorina doesn’t need to be “brand new.” In fact it can take a year in the bottle to develop and come of age. A little fuller-bodied than the Cococciola, still fairly high in acid, but with a mellow undertone and a middle that pairs well with fuller-flavored seafood. Under $20.

Reds from Abruzzo

2010 Caldora Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC
One of my current favorite “go to” reds from Italy. Retailing for well under $10, this is a wine that doesn’t taste cheap and compromised, like so many inexpensive Montepulcianos. Nice fruit, good spice, clean flavors, dry, what else do you want for everyday?

2009 Cantina Frentana “Rubesto” Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC
This wine has replaced one of my “stand by” riservas from Abruzzo. It invokes the Invecchiato style from another producer I spent years selling. It’s rich, it’s not overdone, it had great balance and it sells for about $15, what my other one used to sell for about 20 years ago. Happy days are here again.

Abruzzo "Hill Country" BBQ
2009 Cataldi Madonna Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC
One serious red. Great wine with a few years on it, rich, deep spice. This winery could really be one of the one in the future that people will talk about like some of the other iconic wineries in Abruzzo. Maybe they already do, but in my mind, not enough. At least here in the midsection of America. When I wasn’t selling this wine, years ago, I was always a little jealous of the folks who were. Their Cerasuolo is as good as anyone’s, including the standard bearer, Valentini. Both the red and the rosé sell for under $20.

2007 La Valentina “Spelt” Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC
Not to be confused with Valentini, this winery dreams but never leaves the planet. The wine is rooted in the soil; I just love the meatiness of this wine. All of these reds, from the same appellation and they all have their own unique personality. The winery designates this wine in their Linea Terroir range, aptly named. Not exclusively Euro-centric in style, the fruit is high and the oak chimes in. But the balance takes care of any misgivings or fears of mine. Great with big food, steaks, bone in ribeyes. About $25.

2009 Cantina Zaccagnini "Tralceto" Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC
When I first went to this winery I didn’t expect to find what I did. I love the passion of winemaker Concezio Marulli. The owner is nuts about art, the place is a living museum out in the middle of the country. Only in Italy. The wine? Solid, dependable, great value, consistent but not dull. Owner Ciccio Zaccagnini doesn’t do dull. Too bad he still clings to the frustratingly unwieldy Flash protocol on his website. About $15.

2006 Cerulli Spinozzi “Torre Migliori” Montepulciano d’ Abruzzo Colline Teramane DOCG
Maybe the name Spinozzi got me, the family name of my friend Eugenio who died Sept 7, 2005. The winery is in the Colline Teramane, south of where I have spent most of my time traipsing through vineyards. Now memories are all that is left of those days. This wine is part of a project my Veneto friend Andrea Sartori has vetured south for. I often neglect to mention this wine, for no reason. The wine is a quetter version of Montepulciano, kind of like Andrea. One criticism, their website also is impossible to navigate, Flash infected. Fortunately their wines, organically grown, are immune to the webmasters shortcomings. Wine consigliere Franco Bernabei is learning to manipulate less and listen more, like a good conduttore. Retails for about $16.

Buon Anima, Eugenio

wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W


michelecolline said...

Thank you! I've always considered Cataldi Madonna's cerasuolo equal to the best ones produced. Wish there were more montepulcianos around 10$(there is one is our market)..

Ron Washam, HMW said...


I'm completely thrilled that you're doing a bit of wine recommending.
I'll certainly try to find as many of these wines as I can knowing that here, on this blog, the author knows whereof he speaks.

I'm very much in favor of you doing this on a regular basis. I love Italian wine, but my knowledge, while adequate, is wildly inferior to yours. But I'm funnier.

Alfonso Cevola said...

not sure what kind of a case I made, Ron. I could only come up with 10.

More of an "out of the box experience"

Jake said...

What a great post. I love SBDT! And thank you for the wine tips. I've had a few of these, but I look forward to trying the rest.

Jake said...

Actually, I have a question. In Italy, I've had wines that were labeled Montelpulciano INCANTO. Is Incanto a particular type of Montelpulciano or a method of bottling? I've never been able to find it here in The States. I appreciate any thoughts you may have.

Alfonso Cevola said...

Incanto is a wine from Marramiero winery

Jake said...

That's it! Thank you very much! I appreciate it.

Incidentally, it's great to see wines like Pecorino getting some attention on your post. I enjoy Trebbiano, but I love Pecorino and Passerina!

Also, enjoyed your photo of Scampi. The first thing I eat in Le Marche is Olive Ascolane. The second thing is Scampi. :)

The wines of Le Marche are also wonderful. Lacrima di Morra d'Alba, Rosso Conero, Rosso Piceno, and Verdicchio di Jesi.


Abruzzo white wines Italy said...

Congratulations for this delicious experience. It was a great choice!

redreid said...

Alfonso, you are - 100% - my hero. Hugs and kisses and glasses lifted.

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