Most people think of Tuscany and the Chianti region as the vino capital of Italy, and quite rightly so. There are miles and miles of vineyards, small family wineries and larger corporate production businesses that produce some of the world’s most famous olive oil, pesto and wine. The grapes that grow in Tuscan hills compete neck and neck with grapes in France and California to create “the best” bottle. But, the beauty of wine is that each grape is so unique to the specific climate and soil of the region, that even the slightest change in environment will change the final wine product.
But, Tuscany won’t be Italy’s main shining wine-region for long. Abruzzo, a wine region on the mid-west coast of Italy, due east of Rome, is the next big thing for wine connoisseurs. In the past decade, tourism has increased, mostly among Italians and other Europeans. Though Abruzzo remains off the beaten path for the Venice-Florence-Rome tourists (who I like to call checklist travelers) it’s becoming more and more popular, especially near the town of L’Aquila.
Two weekends ago, I spent a few days on a wine tasting tour of San Lorenzo a family owned and operated vineyard buried deep in the hillsides of the Abruzzo region near L’Aquila. We tasted five or six different wines, both reds and whites, savoring the special grape grown in the particular Abruzzo soil that cannot be replicated anywhere else.
The Italians celebrate food better than any other culture I’ve come across, so when we sat down to take our first sip of the night, I had very high expectations. With a wood fire to my back and the rest of our embassy party in front of me, the Italian family who owned San Lorenzo opened more than a dozen bottles, making sure that each adult knew the history of the grape, the part of the hillside that grape came from, and why that wine was special. They started the night with the lesser known wines working up to their holy grail—the best of all wines—Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, a red wine made exclusively from grapes in this region.
To score a bottle of this in the US, you’ll have to pay upwards of 150 dollars, but in the Abruzzo region, bottles run between 15-20 euros. This deep red was the perfect mixture of earthy and tangy flavors. It wasn’t as biting as merlot or as sweet as strawberry wine. I’m no wine expert, but I do know that it’s now on my top 5 favorites wines I’ve ever tasted, even after living in Tuscany last year.
The bread and the olive oil were so fresh that they provided the perfect intermittent palate cleansing between glasses. Before dinner, two chefs came out and demonstrated how to make four homemade cheeses, which solidified over a 30 minute period, and were served with fresh bread. Our dinner consisted of a first course of spaghetti cooked a la dente and
served with a perky red tomato sauce and bite sized meat balls. The second course consisted of an Abruzzo region native turkey, a bird the size of three basketballs. The chefs carved the turkey right there and served it with slow roasted yellow and red peppers and onions marinated in garlic and spices grown in Abruzzo hillsides. For dessert, we enjoyed Italian tiramisu. Italian cuisine is one of the most delectable sects in the food industry, and if you’re traveling to Italy, don’t miss this region (even if you are a checklist traveler). I’ve heard some travelers say you can’t possibly come to know a culture until you taste it. In Abruzzo’s case, I’d have to agree.