The Wine Drinker

This is the Dead Letter Office of my wine writing. These stories ended up not fitting on our company's Facebook page (Piedmont Wine Imports) or website,, for reasons that I think are clear once you scroll through a few posts. Less professional musings, impressions that ultimately never got past the rough prototype stage. Um... enjoy!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Abruzzo in winter

I want to visit Abruzzo in warm months, to buy live Dover sole from fishermen who sell the night’s catch from their small boats on the beach at Francavilla al Mare in the morning. And then I want to cook and eat that fish, in a small house with doors facing east, smelling salt and feeling the dull rumble of waves. And then I want to travel slowly away from the coast, along the narrow stone streets of Tortoreto, through the verdant, hot Abruzzo, past palm trees, up steep sunny hills toward the Apennines. Winding away from people and coast into farmland, ending up among patchwork houses with roosters and goats in scrubby fields, down tractor paths with no cell phone reception, almost lost, with only a vague knowledge of where to procure dinner.

My travel in Abruzzo has been limited to winter. I feel a dominance of mountains and cold: inland Abruzzo in winter can be a hard place. Down narrow roads away from civilization I feel isolated. Restaurants are empty. The kinetic energy of the topography suggests earthquakes. Broken, uneasy. In January the coast looks built-up and abandoned, giving the weird pleasure of loneliness.

A warm counterweight to all that is bleak about winter in Abruzzo is the blatant, tangible generosity: such friendly people!  On my final evening in the region’s northern corner, the proprietor of Pizzorante Zio Mamo (such an awesome name!) presented the gift of a little jar of spicy fat, clearly locally made. It made me feel accepted. After only a couple of meals together he offered me something very specific and real. It felt like recognition of like-mindedness. Or acknowledgement that we both really like drinking good Abruzzese wines and eating big meals. But damn! No pizza that night. Instead he made goat slow-cooked with peppers, which is a specialty of Neretto. Far from home and completely wrung out/exhausted by travel I felt comforted by friendly restaurant people in a small town, locals that embrace outsiders like new regulars. It is a view of the best of Abruzzo, its uncommon kindness.   

Abruzzo feels like a compressed version of my native North Carolina. Mountains and sea are often in sight of each other. The hills close to the Adriatic are full of small farms that grow kiwis, apricots, plums, olives, grapes, dozens of appealing edible things. The fertility and abundance of their agriculture is remarkable in a region of dizzyingly uneven topography, land at points barren and hard. I feel close to farming in Abruzzo. Agriculture is relevant and alive in the communities I visit, a source of intermittent abundance if not material prosperity.

Ensconced in happy isolation in the small hill towns of northern Abruzzo, I was in communities on the border with Le Marche. It’s a normal agricultural part of Abruzzo, not a bucolic idyll, not so much rural as remote. Tasting at good estates in this hilly area you find products reminiscent of the better wines grown in Umbria, Marche, even Tuscany. Valid, distinct wines are made in hearteningly quality-oriented ways in Abruzzo’s mountainous northern corners. In the provinces of Teramo (particularly), Pescara and l’Aquila very good wines are in decent supply. But the global reputation of wines from Abruzzo is battered by the sea of very ordinary wine made far to the south, mostly in the province of Chieti. 

Our relationship with Abruzzo is young. We’ll be back, many times. Maybe even in summer. Many people are making good wine on the hillsides of Abruzzo. They make possible a different future for a region that needs to escape bulk wine practices and the dominance of a few huge cooperatives to achieve real prosperity.

So we picked out a few small-estate wines to sell in America. Eventually we will add more, because these are a part of our dream: to import sanely priced and diligently farmed wine from small estates, to eat with pizza. I always forget to emphasize the pizza. 


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