I Love Italian Wine and Food – The Abruzzo Region

vines - Photo © Gardawind
vines – Photo © Gardawind

An article by: Levi Reiss

If you are looking for fine Italian wine and food, consider the Abruzzo region of central Italy. You may find a bargain, and I hope that you’ll have fun on this fact-filled wine education tour.

Abruzzo is located on the central eastern part of Italy on the coast of the Adriatic Sea. The area is 2/3 mountains and 1/3 hills. Over time Abruzzo has belonged to the Romans, the Lombards, and the kingdom of Naples. While this area was once very poor, its income is now growing. Abruzzo and Molise were a single region from 1948 to 1965. Its population is 1, 275 million.

Agricultural products include grapes, olives, wheat, sugar beets, tobacco, saffron, pigs, and sheep. The Adriatic Sea and inland lakes and streams provide a wide variety of fish and shellfish. If I remember correctly, the first time that I heard of this region was decades ago, when I learned that according to Craig Claiborne, at the time Food Editor of the New York Times, Italy’s best food was found in Abruzzo.

Abruzzo has no large cities. Its administrative center l’Aquila has a population of about 70 thousand. But big cities are hardly a requirement for good wine. Few would ever claim that Italy’s best wines come from Rome, or the surrounding area.

Abruzzo devotes about eighty two thousand acres to grapevines, it ranks 10th among the 20 Italian regions. Its total annual wine production is about 110 million gallons, giving it a 5th place. About 90% of the wine production is red or rose’ (not very much rose’), leaving 10% for white. The region produces 3 DOC wines. DOC stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata, which may be translated as Denomination of Controlled Origin, presumably a high-quality wine and 1 DOCG red wine, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Colline Teramane. The G in DOCG stands for Garantita, but there is in fact no guarantee that such wines are truly superior. About 17% of Abruzzo wine carries the DOC or DOCG designation. Abruzzo is home to about two dozen major and secondary grape varieties, a few more white and than red.

Widely grown international white grape varieties include Trebbiano and Chardonnay. Sauvignon Blanc. The best known strictly Italian white variety is Trebbiano d’Abbruzzi, felt by some to be Bombino Bianco.

The best known Italian red variety is Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. The Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC is the most widely exported Italian DOC wine.

Before we reviewing the Abruzzo wine and cheese that we were lucky enough to purchase at a local wine store and a local Italian food store, here are a few suggestions of what to eat with local wines when touring this beautiful region. Start with a Pizza Rustica, Cinnamon-Scented Pie Stuffed with Proscuitto, Cheese, and Eggs. Then move on to Polenta sulla Spianatora, Polenta (Cornbread) Topped with Sausage in Spicy Tomato Sauce. For desert enjoy a Crostata di Ricotta, a Ricotta Tart.

Wine Reviewed Abruzzo Illuminati Montepulciano d’Abruzzo “Riparosso” 2004 DOC 13% alcohol about $11.50

The marketing materials state that this wine has hints of an Amarone (a much more expensive wine) or a Ripasso ( a more expensive wine). There are raisings, currants, and tar on the nose whilst the taste profile is ripe, mellow fruit flavors of raspberry jam and ocha. It doesn’t contain a lot of acidity so drink it within a year. Pair it with pizza, burgers, or any meat dish that you tend to eat during the week.

This wine is said to complement pasta, red meats, and savory cheeses.

I found the Riparosso to be somewhat robust, with cherry and plum flavors. I didn’t have the feeling that I was drinking a regular Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, but instead almost a Ripasso, a wine that I prefer. This wine managed to feel full-bodied even with its light tannins. It balanced nicely the tanginess of barbecued eggplant loaded with garlic, and demonstrated notable spiciness when paired with a meat ball and vegetable stew. Its acidity was pleasant. I did not discern all the flavors listed above. For me the dominant flavor was black cherry. The final meat dish that accompanied this wine was a barbecued boneless rib steak with a spicy curry and cumin sauce. The wine seemed to pick up strength to accompany this meat, which by the way, we don’t eat on a regular basis during the week.

I tasted this wine with two related cheeses. Pecorino Toscano is a soft, nutty cheese. Interestingly enough, I found that the wine was no longer robust, it seemed to soften to accompany this mild cheese. In the presence of a Pecorino Fiore Sardo, a balsamic sheep’s milk cheese with a stronger flavor and coarser consistency than its Tuscan cousin, the wine almost magically picked up flavor to meet the challenge.

Final verdict, as you can tell this wine is a definite keeper.

Extra note. Several months ago on a whim I bought a $6 bottle of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. Given the realities of the marketplace, I really doubt that any producer can come up with a decent bottle at that price. At first the wine was terribly acidic. I held out, finished the bottle and the last glass was almost OK. Yes, there are bargains, such as this Riparosso, but few in the $6 range.

About the Author

Levi Reiss has authored or co-authored ten books on computers and the Internet, but to be honest, he would rather just drink fine Italian or other wine, accompanied by the right foods. He teaches classes in computers at an Ontario French-language community college. His wine website is www.theworldwidewine.com. You can reach him at ital@mail.theworldwidewine.com.

A few items from Abruzzo

La Cucina: The Regional Cooking of Italy
Fifty years ago, a group of Italian scholars gathered to discuss a problem: how to preserve traditional Italian cooking. They formed the Italian Academy of Cuisine to document classic recipes from every region. The academy’s more than seven thousand associates spread out to villages everywhere, interviewing grandmothers and farmers at their stoves, transcribing their recipes—many of which had never been documented before. This is the culmination of that research, an astounding feat—2,000 recipes that represent the patrimony of Italian country cooking. Each recipe is labeled with its region of origin, and it’s not just the ingredients but also the techniques that change with the geography. Sprinkled throughout are historical recipes that provide fascinating views into the folk culture of the past. There are no fancy flourishes here, and no shortcuts; this is true salt-of-the-earth cooking. The book is an excellent everyday source for easily achievable recipes, with such simple dishes as White Bean and Escarole Soup, Polenta with Tomato Sauce, and Chicken with Lemon and Capers. For ease of use there are four different indexes. La Cucina is an essential reference for every cook’s library.

Grazing In Abruzzo
Bruce Franchini (Director), Lidia Bastianich (Actor)
Lidia loves the region of Abruzzo! She describes the people there as welcoming, giving and jovial, and the hearty food of the region has left her with such fond memories. In the Abruzzese kitchens, Farro, a kind of wheat berry, is cooked as a whole grain and is manufactured in many shapes-both by small artisanal pasta makers and larger pasta companies. She makes this pasta with arugula and ricotta. Following her main course of Lamb with Olives, she creates the deliciously fun Scrippelle-which look like fettuccine-and tosses them in a hot caramel, citrus and apricot sauce for dessert.

Abruzzo. History and art guide
by Latini M. L. (Author)
Although it is a bit too synthetic, to the detriment of the overall readability of the text, the work provides an exhaustive description of the artistic heritage of Abruzzo, inserting points for observation not always recognized. Recommended.

Abruzzo 1st Edition
by Michael Kenna
Abruzzo, located in southern Italy, is known as the green region of Europe because of the system of parks and nature reserves covering more than one-third of its territory. In Abruzzo, Michael Kenna found a cultural identity that elsewhere, for the most part, has been lost to globalization and instant communication. Kenna photographed medieval ruins, ancient villages and a countryside rich in traditional cultivation. As curator Vincenzo de Pompeis writes in the book s introduction, 'Abruzzo's heritage, together with its impressive natural scenery, brings to mind romantic connotations that have historically attracted many international landscape artists, particularly in the 19th century. Michael Kenna fits perfectly into this rich historical vein of celebrated landscape artists who have worked in Abruzzo. Kenna's work often evokes the influences of Romanticism. In his photographs of historic rural landscapes, for example, there is an air of melancholy, which accompanies memories from the past. His images of ruins stir up feelings of passing time, of the constantly evolving ties between history and nature.' This gorgeous new monograph by renowned landscape photographer Michael Kenna is published to coincide with a major museum exhibition in Loreto Aprutino, Italy. Richly printed in duotone on matt art paper, and presented in an olive-green cloth slipcase with black debossed text on one side and a tipped-in image on the other, Abruzzo presents 65 images from the series, published here for the first time.

Michelin Map Italy: Abruzzo, Molise 361 (Maps/Local (Michelin))
Michelin created its first travel guide over 100 years ago to promote road travel and inspire driving confidence. Today, Michelin Travel & Lifestyle offers travelers an extensive range of travel guides, maps and online travel resources. These products deliver the same Michelin promise of quality and consistency consumers expect from one of the world's most trusted brands.
Publisher of travel guides, maps and atlases, Michelin Travel & Lifestyle offers a complete travel portfolio. Where to go, how to get there, where to eat & stay, and what to see & do ... all in one collection with extensive international & domestic coverage, especially for Europe. Our series includes Michelin (Red) Guides, Green Guides, Must Sees and Michelin maps and atlases.

Canti Della Terra D'Abruzzo
Ettore Montanaro
Buy MP3: all 51 at the same time, or each one individually.

Italian Folk Songs from Abruzzo 1927-1930
LA COPPIA SCIASCIA (Artist)
CD and MP3 reissue of the freat italian folk duo. Comes with rich notes and photos of the couple as well. Pasquale and Clara Sciascia immigrated to the U. S. from the Abruzzo region of Italy, settling in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. From 1927 to 1933 they recorded 44 songs fro the Victor, Columbia and Brunswick record companies. The Sciascias were the first to record a number of Italian and Abruzzese folk songs, 14 of which are reissued here for the first time in 90 years. The songs feature wonderful duet singing and exquisite string band accompaniment. Also included are notes on the couple and their music, photos, and the transcribed and translated lyrics. Includes 20 page booklet.