Travaasa Austin Certified Sommelier, Edward Morgan, embarked on a two-week long journey through Italy, learning the intricacies of Italian winemaking along the way. His adventure has taken him through Piedmont, Veneto, Verona, Emilia Romagna, Reggio Emilia and Abruzzo. Here is an excerpt from his incredible Italian saga highlighting his second day in the Abruzzo region.
The name “Teramo” is a corruption of the word Interamna. It suggests the confluence of the two rivers that cut through the landscape, the Vezzola and the Tordino. Teramo is a commune in the region of Abruzzo nestled between the highest point of the Apennine Mountains, Gran Sasso and the Adriatic Sea. It is full of beautiful, green rolling fields and pastures fixed to the sides of the slopes, which serves much of the region in agricultural products such as wine, wool and olives. This is the rural countryside of Italy and for the next 12 hours, I was in for more than just a ride.
The trip to Cerulli vineyard took about 30 minutes winding through the foothills that sit just below the mountains. It was a magnificent day and the weather was perfect. The Appenines gathered the clouds across the sky and kept them in her arms to create an opulent blue canopy that helped set the stage for the afternoon.
We stepped into the winery where massive 2,500-liter tanks of trebbiano and Montelpuciano hibernated until their fall release. Enrico took a few pulls off the tap and invited us to enjoy his artistry in progress. It was a bit bitter, angular and if one could imagine, petulant on the palate – good, but not ready. It is a treat to explore these wines during the process – to understand their evolution, the mastery of this culture and how it takes patience and time at every turn; that coupled with a finite understanding of how every seemingly innocuous task can have such a monumental impact on the final product.
We spent most of the afternoon walking the property, admiring the different landmarks and landscapes that had attached themselves to the hillsides for the past thousand years. The vines, some almost 60 years old and standing nearly six feet tall and four inches in diameter, blanketed the meadows where a canopy of foliage would evolve in the months to come, covering the training wires that held the trellising system together.
Enrico invited us to the house at the top of the estate to enjoy a fine selection of the last ten years of Montelpuciano and, of course, a homemade pasta lunch. Cerulli Spinozza has been in existence since the 1850s. The land itself dates back to the Roman Era where, beneath the remnants of the family’s first home, lies intricate patterns of red terracotta bricks that were once the foundation of this ancient Roman estate.
The Cerulli family is one of prominence. It descends from the famous astronomer and researcher, Vincenzo Cerulli, who invented a telescope still used in many observatories today. Today, Enrico and his brother run the winery as the sixth generation of winemakers for the estate. The family also abides a portion of land dedicated to olive production from which they have created a collection of olive oil ranging from the highest DOP rated original gangsters to chili and truffle infusions for the more adventurous palate.
After lunch, we visited the retail side of the business where Cerulli has employed wine pumps to help tourists expedite the filling process for any vessel they choose to bring in and brim with freshly fermented chardonnay/trebbiano blends. Of course, I left my filler ups at home, so I went straight off the tap. The day had already felt well spent when Enrico asked if anyone was interested in grabbing some Gelato in town to settle our stomachs. Who was going to say no? Obviously, he new just the place.
In the small municipality of Montorio Al Vomano, Benignetti Antico Gelateria has been serving up its own unique gelato for over 100 years. Roberta, the daughter of the original proprietors still stands behind the counter serving up a family recipe marked by a less unctuous but far creamier version of this decadent delight. She doesn’t have any signage demarcating where each of her 20 some odd flavors are, she just knows how far to reach and what you are asking for. After I enjoyed a triple scoop of Tiramisu, Amaroena and Fragola Piccolo, I washed it down smooth with a shot of the local customary alcoholic beverage, Gran Sasso, an amaro made just up the road at the local monastery.
We wandered the streets of Vomano admiring the architecture, including the Duomo di Teramo. It was consecrated in 1176, built with the stone of a nearby ancient roman theater, and dedicated to the assumption of the Vrgin Mary and St. Berardo, the patron saint of the city.
A common theme interrupted our leisurely stroll through the city. Individuals seemed to recognize Enrico from afar no matter where we stopped. Buildings donning the Cerulli name rounded the corners of the major intersections, and the history burgeoned with mentions of the family name. I had been remised all afternoon. I was in the presence of greatness, but not because of his family heritage, but because of how he handled it with such great poise, generosity of words and kindness.
Our final stop for the evening brought us to a tiny osteria off the main corso, down a few alleyways and into a remote part of the city – BarDi Giuseppantonio Andrea. It is traditionally closed on Sundays; however, we weren’t the typical tourists that frequented Vomano and it seemed as though Enrico and Andrea had a long-standing friendship.
The entire establishment stood only about 200-square-feet, kitchen included and with our group of now 10, this would be the full seating for the evening. We picked up a few of Enrico’s friends along the way, two lovely young ladies who claimed to be in the pastry business. I didn’t ask, only inferred, that Enrico enjoyed a more diverse company than we could afford him. I agree, dinner is much more interesting with a smattering of perspectives and a feminine touch.
Over the course of the next three hours we enjoyed plate after plate of homemade, local delicacies. The introduction aptly named “The Seven Virtues” was a sort of stew composed of fresh garden herbs, pork and vegetables. The recipe dated back to the Roman era, used to satiate the incoming soldiers from battle and clear the cupboard for the spring harvest. Fresh porcini mushrooms over arugula drenched in lemon and radish oil, bucatini all’amatriciana and a slew of cured meats and fresh pastas followed. To finish, we had a house favorite, a rose water amaro, only made in the province of Giuseppantonio Andrea and only served to the finest of guests.
As we strolled through the narrow corridors of the gas lamp streets back to our cars, we commented on the local customs and how unique our experience had been. Citing the magnitude of pride and patience it takes to really “put on the dog” – an expression I come to find accurate in this neck of the woods. We bid our dinner guests farewell and said our long goodbyes to Enrico, truly the host of hosts. I am looking forward to seeing him again stateside next month, when we reconvene for an Italian Wine seminar in Houston. I can only hope we will remain friends for some time to come.