I told the group my favorite place in Italy was usually wherever I was and let it go at that. While walking around the room, most people wanted to tell me about their trip to Tuscany, to Venice, to the Amalfi Coast. I could almost tell you what someone was going to tell me in the way they would motion for me to come to their table. For some reason everyone has a story. So I listen, nod in the appropriate place and time and move to the next person. It’s quite odd, the experience of having people purge to me. Odder even than that, is when I try to talk to groups like that, I barely get a minute before folks start talking among themselves.
This last time, the noise level got so loud and folks appeared to not give a damn about anything I had to say, I finally raised my voice and said, “I’m going to stop talking now. If anyone in the room wants more information, please visit my blog,” and I walked out of the room, calmly. No need to stoke the fires of St. Anthony already raging on my very own east coast.
Verdicchio from Tavignano, a friend and I were going over the event we had just done. Ultimately we decided the group had a good time, but they really weren’t there for my expertise on Italian wines; they were there for a good time. And the oath of hospitality demands that we serve people, even when they are not as generous of spirit as we’d like them to be.
There are many “other” Italy’s. Mine happens to start on the Marche/Abruzzo border, in the town of San Benedetto del Tronto, sans tourists, sans checklist. There are storehouses of memories, along with a lively community. I can go to this little seaside town and get an instant read on what’s changing in Italy just by looking at the store windows. I’ve done it for years. I love the place, love the food and love the wines.
Marche, for me, is the easier of the two regions. The wines are simple, from the Verdicchio to the Rosso Piceno and Conero. A little rosé, some sparkling wine, not too many choices. Wines I can drink, easily, all the time. Heraldic wines? No. But simple pleasures.
There’s so much more than just the wine. It’s the way the breeze touches your arm, the intense searing heat of the sun as it rises over the Adriatic. The smell of the sea, the abundance of the seafood, arguably my favorite place for such delicacies from all of Italy. Yes, I know that’s probably heresy, after all, there’s Sicily and the Campania coast, Puglia and the Veneto. I know. I’ve been to all of those places, including Liguria, the Maremma, Calabria, I know. This is my other Italy, these are my picks.
And the wines? Look into my wine closet, you will find many a bottle of Montepulciano from Abruzzo. Recently we opened two bottles of wine from the 1985 vintage, one an Hermitage and one a Riserva from Abruzzo. The Montepulciano glowed, danced, set one’s mind afire. The Hermitage, while lovely, was somber, quiet. Lovely, yes, in a pretty little old lady kind of way. But the wine from Abruzzo was full of sexy, juicy fire. And they say Montepulciano d’ Abruzzo cannot age. Maybe it is just that they “do not go gentle into that good night.”
One of my favorite meals I ever had was during the summer of 1988. We were staying at the Excelsior Hotel on the beach at San Benedetto. It was July, hot. Lunch was served in a room with open windows, and the warm breeze rolled though the dining room. The server, dressed in whites, brought a chilled bottle of rosé, Cerasuolo from the Montepulciano grape. Cherry bright, dry, spicy, damn sexy wine. Our serve followed with a perfect plate of Spaghetti all'arrabbiata. I still taste the wine and that pasta; my other Italy has spoiled me in the best way.
More to come about this; for now I have gone too long. Only to say, in closing, one must find their other Italy, wherever it is. For you it might be Sardegna, it might be Liguria, it might be Alto-Adige. It doesn’t matter. What I found was my little corner of authentic Italy, a place where tourists do not go to and then tell someone at a wine dinner what a lovely time they had. It hasn’t been found, yet. And that is perfectly fine with me and all the people who live in my other Italy.
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