At the foothills of the Maiella mountain in the province of Chieti lies an ancient town of 10,000 people, nearly 600 meters in the sky. We were told that when the town was being attacked, they would close this massive gate to keep out the would be conquerors. I was just interested in conquering the food and the wine, so looks like the doors were open for our visit.
The Town of Guardiagrele is full of 14th century gothic architecture and had some fantastic frescos. At the entrance to the city there is quite a display of copper and iron work – the city has been known for metal working since the late 14th century.
As I was noticeably dragging from extended jet lag and extensive wine drinking so we stopped for a quick espresso. I learned very quickly that Italians find it very rude if someone takes their picture without asking. I can’t say I had a bad coffee in Italy whatsoever, which was surprising given the fact that almost everyone was using Illy espresso beans. Walking around the streets of Guardiagrele I mostly observed how pervasive italian culture is at every age. Highly social and conversant with lots of face to face interaction. I barely saw anyone with their cell phone out at anytime, they were tucked away in purses and pockets. I noticed some young boys arguing over something, their hand motions and vocal inflections almost cinematic and fluid; this is a complete opposite to the ipad-glued mechanical motion of children in Los Angeles.
Filled with food specialists, shopping, and lots of hidden corners I could have spent all day walking around Guardiagrele, but our next stop was just as fantastic. A restaurant within a cave, Ristorante “La Torre.” A welcome respite from the chill outside we climbed what felt like an abandoned passageway what appeared to be and actually was, a cave. Outside the front door was a lovely selection of herbs and flowers growing to welcome visitors. The setting looked like it could have been 200 years ago, a roaring fire going on in the corner, a priest dining in the corner with a nun, a dusty rack full of interesting wine under curved rock walls coated with soot. Magic.
The meal that followed was hearty and truly delicious. I would rate my understanding of the Italian language at 3/10, so I wasn’t surprised when we sat down and were handed menus only to have them taken away without us ordering.
Olive oil, bread, and some delicious pasta then appeared in front of us, as well as a bottle of of 2010 Villa Gemma Bianco. This was a fatter and rounder expression of the Trebbiano grape, with noticeable oak. I began scanning the room for the Masciarelli Trebbiano that I had enjoyed so much the day before; only this I thought, had the acidity to cut through the simple slices of lardo and bread before me. Yet then, a surprise guest in a Villa Gemma Cerasuolo D’Abruzzo appeared on the table.
I’m familiar with Cerasuolo from Vittoria (further south) from my days at Sotto, in West L.A. The addition of fruity Frappato to Montepulciano in Vittoria makes for a popular wine, particularly on a hot summer day when something more substantial than simple rose was required to stand up to a hearty pork sugo.
Here in Abruzzo, the blend is nearly 100% Montepulciano with reduced contact time between the fermenting grape juice and the deep red grape skins.
Decreasing the red pigmentation of the wine results in the rose-like color. Yet with Montepulciano the color is more cherry-like (Cerasuolo, ‘cherry’ in Italian).
Overall the meal at Ristorante “La Torre” was pretty special, if they had beds inside that cave I would’ve hibernated for hours. Espresso didn’t seem to be working on me in the face of mountains of delicious pasta and braised wintery meat dishes.