Sunday, January 29, 2023

[Whereabouts = Abruzzo] [Topic = Montepulciano] [Endeavor = A Meditation]

here is it in Italy that really grabs you by the heart and flings you around, as if you were dancing and loving and young forever and all was well with the world, as it always has been?

A tall order, without doubt. And a difficult one, for those who have traversed the length and width of Italy. After all, there is so much to  love in almost anywhere in Italy. Just plop oneself down and spin around and where you stop, you head forward in search of magic and miracles.

But if you had to pinpoint one spot, one place, one grape, one region, what would you choose?

One to consider, and a long shot at that, for most people, might be Abruzzo.

Wait, what? That rustic little region to the east of Rome that makes those chunky, savory yet fruity red wines from the Montepulciano grape? Yes, that might be where I am heading in today’s meditation.

It started over a lunch with a young friend, oddly enough about wines from Friuli. And talk about aged and mature wines from there, which in these parts are not easy to find.

A few days later, I’m puttering around my wine closet, updating the inventory file and wondering how far back my Abruzzo wine collection goes. Almost 50 years! Yes, from 1974 to about 2007, I’ve amassed now rare bottles of red wine from Abruzzo, in multiple years and varying sizes.

So what?

No defense here, just a statement of fact. I’ve been enjoying Abruzzo wines for about as long as I have all Italian wines. I had no family from there, no mystical affinity to the place.

That was until I first went there almost 40 years ago.

Since then, the 20 or so times I’ve returned,  visiting a multitude of estates, have served to expose me to a place and a people, a grape and a wine, that is unique to the world of wine.

For me, it starts with two things: the place and the people.

Ever since I first started going to Italy over 50 years ago, I’ve been seeing the Italy I first got to know slipping away into the future. Nothing wrong with that, in the abstract. But it’s like anything one falls for. When it changes, there are adjustments needing to be made.

And not one to dwell in the past, I’m all for progress and refinement. Polishing the diamond.

But, sometimes one can polish it too much, and ruin the inherent beauty that originally drew one to it.

Abruzzo seems to have kept a foot in their traditional setting. Food, wine, the openness of the people. The accessibility. You don’t need to be a millionaire to enjoy all that Abruzzo - the place, the wines, the foods, the people – has to offer the commoner. It’s relatively inexpensive. The restaurants are simple yet the food is wonderful. The wines aren’t as “important” as Bordeaux or Burgundy, Tuscany or Piedmont, but they come together with the food and the place and the people, dovetailing seamlessly with all the elements.

It is a perfect storm. And at the helm of the ship going through it, the Montepulciano grape is the captain.

I can’t say that I have ever gotten tired of drinking Montepulciano. It is rich but not too much. It is fruity, but not overbearing. It has good spice, but it plays in the orchestra of flavors with poise and balance. It can age, but one can drink it young. It’s amazingly versatile with foods from all over the world. Mexican? Absolutely. Classic Chinese? Bring on the Peking Duck. French country fare, ala bistro food? Yeah, without a doubt. Burgers? Pizza? Hot dogs? Nachos? Naturally.

I love to grill a steak in the backyard and pop a Montepulciano Abruzzo Riserva. Likewise, when I’m making my eggplant Parmigiana recipe, the first wine I think of is a Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. When my long departed friend Eugenio Spinozzi would come to the house and make his pasta Amatriciana, we always had a Montepulciano with it.

Grilled lamb, oh my God – even my Greek friend, who is devoted to his beloved Xinomavro, takes a knee when I bring a bottle of Montepulciano around (we also enjoy the Xinomavro, after all I’m not that crazy!).

Yes, yes, yes, the wine is all that blah, blah, blah.

But the reason why is less about wine and winemaking and more about the connection to the place and the people.

And that is something that is best experienced in person, preferably time and time again.

Look, there are folks who go to Italy once and do the grand tour – Rome, Venice, Florence, the Amalfi Coast – and that’s the extent of their bucket list.

But for Italophiles, and enophiliacs, a pilgrimage to Abruzzo is best experienced in stages, over time. Over and over again.

That is when the seductive nature of Abruzzo really sinks her teeth into your soul and you really can never let go. Why would you, anyway?

It’s like the perfect mate, the beautiful sunrise, the feeling of health and vigor. Endless youthfulness.

That’s what Abruzzo and its main vinous protagonist has done to this son of Italy. And for that I am eternally grateful. 

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