Now that Covid confinement and masking feels like it is finally over, summer is in full swing in Chicago. People are taking those long overdue trips, they weren’t able to take a year ago. Italy, seems to be number one, on the hit list. I can see why Italy is popular, with all its geographical nooks and crannies, diversity of food, salumi, formaggi, pasta and of course, wine, wine, wine, the ever changing scenery…. I can’t blame them….. is it possible to have a bad trip to Italy? However, Italy’s abundance of food, people and places to see, makes narrowing down where to go, difficult. For Americans, there are the classic, must-see places, Florence (Tuscany), Milan (Lombardy/Piedmont) and Rome (Lazio). However, if you are looking for a truly authentic experience, where time seems to have stood still, there are no long lines of people waiting to “see things”, delicious wines and food are in abundance, adventures await on the sea, and in the mountains, and where the local people, whom you encounter are just happy, get yourself to the region of Abruzzo in the center of Italy on the Adriatic Coast.
I was very fortunate to visit Abruzzo, for a week in June. The trip was organized by IEEMUSA, and sponsored by the Consorzio di Tutela Vini d’Abruzzo . They brought together wine, and travel journalists, bloggers, and sommeliers, from all over the world, for a week of visiting wineries, capped with a grand tasting of the wines of Abruzzo.
What I really noticed, upon reflecting on the trip, was that I encountered a lot of happy people. As I was going to learn during the week, the region of Abruzzo has been inhabited over the course of millenniums, civilization upon civilization (see my descriptions of the towns of Lanciano and Crecchio below). Its strategic position on the coast of the Adriatic, made it a major stopping point for trade. The short distance across the Apennine mountains (the Maiella Massif) to reach Rome and then the Mediterranean, gave it strategic importance as a trade route. The people of Abruzzo, have this confidence of certainty, that the area has always flourished and it will continue to flourish, they know they won the geographic lottery in terms of location.
Finally, over the course of the next few weeks, I will focus on some of the spots I visited on my trip and will add the links here: Tullum DOCG and Feudo Antico in Tollo, Dinner at Castello di Semivicoli with Miriam Masciarelli, The Pink Way, Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo, Rosé Abruzzo Style, and finally, the wines of the mountains, hills and parks, Castorani and Pasetti.
Where Is It?
Getting to Abruzzo is pretty easy from Chicago. I flew in, on a nonstop United flight into Rome/Leonardo da Vinci airport, which is a very streamlined, easy to get around airport. It was pretty amazing to see the spine of the Apennine mountains running south, along the length of the country from my plane seat (sit on the left hand side of the plane) and what a presence they have. No wonder Italy has such a diversity of wine regions, when you have these jagged mountains dividing up the areas, and creating so many microclimates.
The province of Chieti is almost directly across the country from Rome. Since there was a large group, we were shuttled to Abruzzo, but you can easily rent a car to make the 2 1/2 drive across the mountains to Chieti. The drive to me felt like a drive from Denver across Vail Pass to Montrose Colorado.
The Towns Are Really Old
There was no rest for the weary on this trip, upon arrival at our gorgeous hotel, La Chiave del Trabocchi (see photo above) and a brief lunch and regroup in our rooms, we were shuttled off for a visit to one of the hilltop, medieval towns, Lanciano which dates it founding back to the Romans. In many of the towns, civilzation is built on top of civilzation and ancient artifacts are found quite frequently in the soils. On our tour of Lanciano, we walked down stone passageways, up and under arches, saw ancient cathedrals like the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Ponte, a church built on the 3 arches of a Roman bridge and the Church of San Francesco, a stop on the pilgrimage path in Italy where a eucharistic miracle is alleged to have taken place around 700 AD.
The theme of this trip, delicious wine, started off with a toast of fresh, sparkling wine produced by the Eredi Legonziano winery whose vineyards are located at 350m above sea level in the hills of Lanciano. He is noted to be the first winemaker from Abruzzo to make Metodo Classico wines (aged for at least 36 months on the lees) as well as Metodo Italiano (tank method). The joy of bubbly and the feeling that I truly “was not in Chicago anymore:” hit me, as we tasted his champagne method vintage wine which was absolutely fantastic!
As the sun was setting, our rather large group gathered at one of the iconic “traboccos” (fishermen’s pier restaurants) that dot the Abruzzo coastline.
We had a welcome toast by Valentini Di Campli, President and Davide Acerra of the Consorzio di Tutela Vini d’Abruzzo, with a sparkling Pecorino by Marchese Lucà Dazio. As the wines and food flowed, it was a time to see old friends and be introduced to new ones. The seafood was outstanding, one great wine, Pecorinos, Trebbiano d’Abruzzos, followed one after another, and the joy and anticipation of discovery and learning about this region and its wines and people over the course of the week was palpable. After dinner, we walked along the shore to our buses with excitement for what the week would bring.
The next morning after a decadent, abundant breakfast at La Chiave deli Trabocchi, we headed off to see the historic castle of Crecchio, a town that was one of the centers of trade in Chieti as far back as the 11th century.
The town was not crowded and the castle was also a museum of artifacts going back pre-Etruscan. For those not afraid of small spaces, we were able to climb up the circular stairs of a turret and get the view from the top of the castle which was magnificent. A perfect start to our day of winery visits. Enjoy the view!!!!
Stay tuned!!! Next up: Tullum DOCG and Feudo Antico.