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!

Saturday, October 01, 2016

Centorame 2016. A senza SO2 success story. Plus frutti di mare, and baroque hotel ridiculousness.

30 September 2016

My hotel is Italian nice. By that I mean tons of marble, columns, big planters filled with roses, the most hi-tech shower that I’ve ever seen (it has a digital display, with many settings, and about 14 places where water can shoot out at you) a perpetually empty restaurant and bar with an extensive wine list, a bored waiter in a white coat, and appealing aromas of food that waft out into the mirrored hallway, unexplained. Who is eating this delicious-smelling fare? I’m holed up on a second-floor balcony, watching runners trot along the seafront, past beached tiny fishing boats and symmetrically patterned beach umbrellas and chairs. Francavilla la Mare is deserted. It is two hours after sunset and the air is cool, but the day was beautiful, sunny with a high temperature of maybe 75? I was in the colli Teremane to the north, hills close enough to Gran Sasso, and steep enough to be significantly cooler than sea level. This was a very beach-worthy day. Climate change may make early October the prime secret season for unfettered Italian tourism. Don’t tell your neighbors: let them continue to pile in during blistering July and August.
I’m eating (slowly) a Robiola for dinner, and drinking a fantastic bottle of no-sulfur Montepulciano from Lamberto Vannuci, of Centorame. Holy crap. His sulfured S. Michele Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is solid, what you’d expect from an oak-averse certified-organic estate with prime, steep, old Montepulciano vineyards. Truth be told, it’s a wine that I import, and respect, but don’t drink terribly often. It is better than most. But the no-sulfur wine (which Lamberto named Liberamente) is alive! It sings, it’s fresh: it’s a really enjoyable bottle that proves correct a raft of natural wine dogma. At least, when applied by Lamberto.
Some things you should know. Lamberto is fastidious. His cellar is squeaky clean. Full, but organized. His vineyard work is scrupulous. He warned me that a few weeks ago his lower-elevation Montepulciano vines were hit by hail. I was expecting a disaster. And there was some damage. But I’ve seen more straggly, blighted fruit from farmers who felt their harvest to be a complete success. In short, Lamberto’s standards are high. He’s the person who should be making no sulfur wine. He is technically skilled, and as practical as he is idealistic.

He’s also the reason I’m more-or-less skipping dinner. When I arrived at the cellar at noon, his first utterance to me was, “Meat, or fish?” Well… fish. So we hop in the Audi (Quattro, which he also drives along steep dirt vineyard trails) and zoom down at Italian speed to a restaurant called Manetta. It is on the Adriatic, and serves solely seafood. A pasta course was offered… between the sixth and seventh course. I declined, politely moved onto my “secondi,” a platter of grilled langoustines, anchovies, shrimp, calamari, and fish I don’t recognize. Most courses were small, and raw, and “simple” in the sense they were delicate, and barely adorned. A little salt, olive oil, the occasional brush stroke of a fruit or bean puree. Super fresh. The calories piled up. The sparkling Pecorino from Centorame, as yet not disgorged, ably accompanied everything, until we finished the bottle. It is lunch, after all. Maybe San Pellegrino is best for the remainder.

The place was close to empty when we arrived at 1pm. The chef/proprietor stopped by our table on multiple occasions, to steal a sip of Pecorino, and to chat. His 4-year-old son dribbled a soccer ball around the dining room, to the consternation of the chef and amusement of Lamberto and I. Lamberto’s son is a fan of Napoli, which he considers… strange. Juve, Milan, Inter, ok. Napoli? I weakly assert they have been good in recent seasons. I’m wearing a Diego Maradonna T-Shirt (courtesy of Peyton at Mission Pizza) so I should stick up for his iconic side. Eventually groups of other patrons fill up the place. Locals. Affluent. We were early. Lamberto says this is one of the three or four best seafood spots in Abruzzo. Their fish is impeccably fresh.
 We return to the vineyard. Lamberto’s father is supervising the first day of harvesting Monepulciano. The pickers are timeless, as is often true. Women in house coats, bandanas, some entirely lacking teeth but with forearms that could snap my neck in a second! Centorame’s fields are steep, and topped with an array of solar panels. Back at the winery, de-stemming is beginning. The fruit looks and tastes fine. Lamberto’s father checks individual berries for potential alcohol. I think the harvest will be tough, but successful.

Lamberto is a nice guy. He makes really solid wine in a region blighted by a reputation for cheap co-op junk. He commiserates with me about the fate of Montepulciano, which he likens to Chianti. The wine can be great. Most drinkers expect it to be cheap. Lamberto’s work is a small but true, virtuous attempt to change perceptions of the wine of this homeland.


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