It was our last morning in Abruzzo, when my group, the Rosa group, took off in our bus, to venture into Pescara province (see my Intro piece for a map of the provinces), and the foothills of the Maiella mountains. Our bus headed northwest, towards the mountains. The hum of the bus engine and the grey day, lulled me to sleep. The bus stopped, a lot of excited voices saying “we’re here” woke me up, I stepped outside and we were on a hill top, surrounded by hills, and straight ahead a regal, square building at the end of a perfectly manicured lawn, and to its right, a large modern structure with a granite walkway leading to its entrance.
We had arrived at Villa Castorani and the winery, Podere Castorani in the municipality of Alanno, in Pescara province. I think if it had been a sunny day, the views would have been phenomenal, because we were perched on top of a large hill, surrounded by hills, and the larger mountains in the distance.
The History of Castorani
Lucio Cavuto, winery partner with Jarno Trulli, the ex-Italian Formula One champion, greeted us at the entrance. Lucio, was engaging from the outset, with his crisp, white shirt, and welcoming personality, he recounted the history of the Villa and his partnership with Trulli. Lucio came from a wine producing family in Molise, and Jarno, although his first name does not sound very Italian, he was named after a Finnish motorycle champion, grew up in Abruzzo and was from a grape growing family in the area.
The estate had been part of the dowry in 1793, when Lady Adelino Ruggieri De ‘Capobianchi married Raffaele Castorani, a professor at the Sorbonne, and developer of the first cataract eye surgery. In the next century, the Villa was acquired by Antonio Casulli, an international law professor, who grew the estate to 490 acres. After that, the Villa fell into disrepair, over the course of most, of the 20th century.
In the early 2000’s, Jarno Trulli, at the height of his driving career, and a group of business partners including his manager, Lucio, formed a partnership and bought the estate with the intent of revitalizing the vineyards and restoring the villa. The estate is situated 350m above sea level, is currently 75 acres, and grows Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, Trebbiano d’Abruzzo, Malvasia, Cococciola, Pecorino and Passerina. The winery is totally underground, with a cellar of constant temperature, and the Montepulciano aged in cement. The winery was built in 2005 and they have accommodations on the second floor for winery guests. If I was making a list of tucked away hidden gems, to stay in while in Abruzzo, this is one of them. They currently are imported by Monsieur Touton.
Next up was their winemaker and agronomist, Angelo Molinari. Angelo gave us a tour of the winery including their special room, to dry the grapes for their appassimento, Amarone style, Jarno Rosso, Colline Pescaresi IGT, which is Jarno’s favorite.
Causeria is one of the classified subzones, for growing the Montepulciano grape and Alanno, where Castorani is located, is a town within this subzone. It requires 100% Montepulciano, and mandatory ageing of at least 18 months. Castorani practices massale selection, so their Montepulciano grapes have smaller berries and produce less jammy wines than other biotypes. Antonio macerates the wines for at least 30 days, sometimes 60-90 days, which produces higher tannin wines because tannins in Montepulciano’s come mostly from the seeds. This wine was full bodied, rich, full of red and black fruit, ripe tannins and dried fruit and spice.
Their Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo was the lighter, tannic cousin to the other CDA’s we had tasted on the trip. He ages the wine 4 months on its lees in old oak barrels. This was a very food friendly wine, to be honest, all CDA’s are, but this one had a bit more tannic structure and savory notes over the red fruit and floral notes of others.
At the end of our stay, many of us, to the chagrin of our fearless guide, stayed to buy bottles in particular of their Jarno Rosso, Amarone style wine because it was such a rare wine to find in Abruzzo, let alone Chicago.
Tenuta Testarossa and Pasetti Vini, A Jewel Within Gran Sasso National Park
We had had an enthralling morning with Lucio Cavuto of Podere Castorani, but more was yet to come. While we had been at Castorani, our guide’s phone had been ringing constantly asking when we were expected to arrive at Pasetti Vini. The drive just to get to Pasetti, entailed going up a narrow winding road, basically scaling the side of a mountain, and then down an even narrower windy road, (I realized why they had put us into a smaller bus that day) that felt as if we were driving off a cliff. Then the bus, pulled into what seemed like a walking path, it didn’t look like a road and at the end was this beautiful setting, a large stone villa, Tenuta Testarossa and pool, set within the Gran Sasso National Park . We entered into a huge dining room, a beautifully set long table with a credenza filled with an array of foods.
The meal we had, which had been described as a ‘light lunch”, was one of the most memorable meals I have ever had. It felt like we were in the middle of an intimate family holiday gathering not a group of professional wine and travel writers. Their wines, see below, paired beautifully with it all.
To back track a bit, Mimmo Pasetti’s family had been in the wine business for 5 generations. Mimmo went to oenology school and had the foresight to buy vineyards within Gran Sasso National Park. They are the only winery in Abruzzo, that can put the label of the park on their wines.
Tenuta Testarossa where we were dining is an agritourism destination and I call it “an incredible hidden gem, must stay at” in the mountains.
During the course of the meal, one of Mimmo’s 2 sons, Massimo, who is the export manager gave us a talk on the soils, calcareous clay and vineyards at 550m. His other son, Davide is an enologist. One of my favorite, out of many favorite, wines poured was a sparkling rosato made in the metodo classico style. It was delicate, dry, soft aromas of cherries and strawberries, undertones of stones, long finish.
Their flagship wine, Harimann, 100% Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. The vineyards extend in the area of Pescosansonesco at 550 m.a.s.l., in the core of Grans Sasso and Monti della Laga National Park. The vineyard is a single traditional Abruzzese tent on only 2 hectares, of more than 60 years old, with a low yield of 80 tons/ha. The soil is clay-calcareous and rich in organic matter.
Vinification: maceration and fermentation in stainless steel vats for 16-18 days with selected yeasts at controlled temperature (22°-24°), 10 days of post-fermentative maceration, spontaneous malolactic fermentation.
Ageing, 6 months in stainless steel vats, 24 months in french oak barriques of 1° passage. 10 days stopover in concrete vats until the bottling. At least 12 months in bottle. It should be stored at 16°-18° and consumed preferably within 15 years from the harvest.
This wine shows what Montepulciano is capable of when it is grown in the right soils and has enough diurnal swings and is treated gently in the winery. Delicious!!!!!
Yes, a match made in heaven, a cream cake and their Gesmino Passito Bianco D.O.P. 100% Moscatello di Castiglione .
Our stop at Tenuta Testarossa was a very special stop. Perhaps it was how hidden away and set within the park, surrounded by these beautiful hills and the property was full of flowers in bloom. This was a family that was very proud of their wines and put their heart and soul into it, it was quite clear. Anyone, who stops their way and stays there will be lucky.
I am ending with what I started saying, Abruzzo is a place of happy people, they have the sea, they have the mountains, these beautiful places and they have gorgeous wines, and lands for produce. They may only be 3 hours from Rome but it is a place with a completely different temperament. Seek out their wines, visit Abruzzo and find some of these gems, they are out there!!