Dangle a paper cutout of Italy in the air, then slice it in half with a machete (horizontally; slightly angled). The cut will likely run along a line connecting Rome to Pescara. An excellent east-west highway connecting these cities (in two hours) passes wildly beautiful landscapes between the Tyrrhenian and Adriatic Seas. Most of this journey moves through the region of Abruzzo.
Half of Abruzzo (which itself is about half the size of the U.S. state of New Jersey) is protected as reserves and parks. This makes the drive to Pescara (the region’s largest city, with 125,000 residents) compelling. The vistas look commanding and stark during winter, and verdant and bucolic during spring and summer. Hilltop fortresses, yawning valleys and medieval villages resemble stretches between Beziers in France and Barcelona in Spain—though Abruzzo is far more wooded.
The peaks inside Mount Velino Nature Reserve are visually stunning, reminiscent of other topographies: the Dolomites of Alto Adige, or green mountain slopes of New Zealand’s southern isle. An agricultural valley triangulated between San Pelino, Trasacco and Pescina towns is as impressive as the Valais of Switzerland. Villages—Castrovalva, Bugnara and Roccacasale—either guard hilltops or pour down hillsides. Others, such as Aielli, sit below granite mountains appearing both medieval and mythical, places more imagined than real.
Further east, Abruzzo’s coastal strip is home to soft-spoken fishermen, farmers and winemakers. Less trammeled by tourists than Tuscany and with fewer buses than Barolo, Abruzzo also sells food and wine at prices that won’t shock you, as in Venice.
The vineyard scene here is still sleepy; more Sonoma than Napa, more right bank than left bank Bordeaux.
Weeks ago I had the fortune to visit Pescara again to receive an international wine writing award (‘Parole di Vino,’ or ‘Words of Wine’). During that trip, a visit to vineyards showed that Abruzzo is once again modifying its viticultural identity. Wines that gained respect and soared in quality during past decades—Trebbiano for whites and Montepulciano d’Abruzzo for reds—are now being joined by lesser known white grapes. These are seen as potential entry points to markets craving little known regional wines. They include Pecorino, Cocociolla, Passerina, Montonico and Fiano.
Elevation differences between the Adriatic Sea and Abruzzo’s peaks—9,500 feet within 25 miles [2900 meters within 40 kilometers] create strong diurnal temperature variations. Because the sea absorbs heat during the day and releases it at night, there are also constant breezes. These factors strongly influence local viticulture.
At Tenuta I Fauri winery in Chieti, siblings Valentina and Luigi Di Camillo (pianists as well as winemakers) carry on the tradition of their parents and grandparents. In addition to their classical Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and Trebbiano lines, they also produce clean, precise and excellent Pecorino and Passerina whites. Their international marketing efforts, friendly customer service and wine pedigree are gaining international buzz not only for the winery, but also for Abruzzo.