Sunday, February 16, 2020

An Abruzzo Journey ~ Between the Tranquil and the Active

There is this reoccurring dream, one that has happened, even in waking hours, that sometimes I cannot distinguish between the two. This is happening more and more these days, as the reality of life becomes blurred between the tranquil and the active. It’s as if the meaning of life has swelled from merely what one does to also include one’s fanciful musings. As when we were children, so now, one may revisit that state of being, if only for a brief moment. And that is the way it is for this one when it comes to remembering Abruzzo. What was visible and what was envisioned?

Abruzzo was where I saw the birth of the golden age of Italian wine up front and personal. It is where I wandered vineyards and cellars, and talked to the old people and ate their roasted meats and drank their luscious, rich, generous red wines. It was heaven on earth and it remains a Valhalla to this wanderer, for there is so much for the mind and the body, the heart, the soul, and the eyes and the ears. And for those who thirst and hunger for the unfeigned.

Between the mountains and the sea. Two forces that shape how I navigate through the Abruzzo of my reality. It rarely sees the tsunami of tourism that other regions are beset with. And the natural world dominates the psyche and the actuality of life in Abruzzo. Snow mingles with sand, lamb with clam. And everywhere there is wine, orchestrating as a support beam that holds the ceiling up and keep the walls in place.

But this doesn’t come with ease, it doesn’t arrive on a device, it is something that must be done manually. There is work to be done, before we start celebrating the glories.

To the benefit of us all, the slaves to the wine god in Abruzzo are acutely aware of this necessary expenditure of toil. Tending the vines isn’t a once-in-a-while proposition.

Along with the day-to-day mundane tasks, though, there is something else about Abruzzo and its wines that drew me in long ago. They were accessible in so many ways.

Abruzzo, when I first went there, had just dug out from the ravages of wars and recession. Considered by northerners to be a part of the south, the stigma, rather the prejudice by some, who paints anyone from below the Mezzogiorno to be “terroni,” was present, but it was not a defining measure in the eyes of those I met in Abruzzo. As a friend once told me, “Where I live (Pescara), if you follow the map to the west, to the other side of Italy, you reach Tuscany. And no Tuscan, I have ever known, has ever conceded to the south.”

Being one whose family came from the deep southern crevasses of Italy, I see Abruzzo much differently than I do Sicily or Calabria. I don’t consider coming from the south to be shameful. But I do feel a different energy that emanates from the mountains and seashore of Abruzzo.

First there are those rugged, raw, wild mountains. These are not the hills a Salvatore Giuliano holed up in. And the Adriatic has a vibe that is far from the Tyrrhenian, and by degrees removed even from the Ionian, in what one finds along the different shores. Sure, they are all part of the Mediterranean, but they all have unique aspects. That diversity presents them with distinct identities.

It’s all part of a unified thing, when one looks at it over the years and at various angles. And for me, it works. All of it. the food, the climate, the topography, the people – where it sits in the Italian way of things lines up so well with how I look at things.

And so, why wouldn’t the wine work for someone like me? Or you?

A few weeks ago, a bunch of the local young lions and lionesses got together to break bread, to take a convivial moment from the competition and the dog-eat-dog aspect of the wine trade. Everyone brought a bottle. Being the token silverback on the group, I dug into my wine cave and brought out a 30-year-old bottle of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. It had been stored well and it was a Riserva (denoted by the word “Vecchio”), 1990, from Illuminati, called Zanna.

I didn’t know what to expect, but I’d had the wine over the years and enjoyed it. I looked over notes taken some time ago: “This dark and intense wine opens with a medley of dried fruit and oak aromas. The palate is very elegant with layers of fine tannins, acidity and a long, refreshingly balanced finish. It shows a beautiful balance between its fruit and oak and is ready to drink now but will age for 20 years or more.” Good Lord, did people really write about wine like that?

What I found when it was opened “20 years” later, was that the wine had all of that and it had enjoyed a long life of health. Odd, in that it resembles how I sometimes think of the people from there.

Folks ask me where my favorite place in Italy is or where I’d like to live in Italy, or any of those hypothetical “what if" questions. One of the places I’d like to answer, if those types of questions could ever really be answered, would be to say a little place on the coast which lies between the Abruzzo and Marche border. Close to the water, close to the mountains, just like it was when I was a child, when the world was smaller and a little more innocent, and genuine and simpler things had a greater share of our attention and care.

written and photographed (except for the photo of the vine pruner, which was from a calendar by Terra e Vita)  by Alfonso Cevola limited rights reserved On the Wine Trail in Italy
wine blog +  Italian wine blog + Italy W
Real Time Analytics