“The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom, for we never know what is enough until we know what is more than enough,” posited William Blake in his famous work, “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell”. To allow Americans to test this hypothesis in the early 1970s, the good folk at Cadillac produced the ninth iteration of their Eldorado model with a massive 8.2 litre engine under the bonnet. Presumably, the engineers learned something from the creation of this behemoth because subsequent models had smaller engines but what of the people that purchased these mammoth machines?
We may never know for sure but Vinnie and I learned a little when we visited the D’Alesio Sciarr winery near Citta Sant’Angelo in central Abruzzo, for there, in the farmyard, was indeed an example of this automotive leviathan. The first question that sprang to mind was how did this monster make it up the narrow winding country lane that we had just driven up to reach this remote spot? The next was, why?
Well, the how is perhaps not so difficult given the plethora of farm machinery and trailers that have made their way to the farmyard but to answer the ‘why’ I asked our host, Lanfranco. He is the uncle of Giovanni – who currently heads this family enterprise – and is a font of knowledge about the business. It turns out that Lanfranco’s maternal grandfather was a baseball player in the United States but in the end the call of the motherland was too strong and so, in common with a surprising number of migrants, he returned. However, obviously he could not bear to be parted from this example of mechanical excess and so it came along too. Whether this particular road led to the acquisition of wisdom we will never know, I just hope it made him happy.
Apart from the family history, Lanfranco is also immensely knowledgeable about matters viticultural having worked in Australia and South Africa as well as several European countries; with him, a tour of the d’Alesio Sciarr vineyards was a real pleasure. From 18 hectares of vines they produce around 90,000 bottles of wine per year, both red and white. Amongst the white grapes in the northern vineyard they grow two unusual examples, Montonico from Calabria and the very rare Cococciola, a native to Abruzzo.
For aficionados of red wine, the other vineyard is the one to see for here it is 100% Montepulciano. However, the vines are not all the same; there are some relatively recent plantings and Lanfranco explained that about six years ago they had around 40 centimetres of snow late in spring that killed off large areas of the vineyards. Given that the vineyard is 300 metres above sea level, that was truly exceptional. The survivors included some 50-year-old vines that had been trained in the pergola manner and the height that this gave them proved to be the factor that saved them, keeping the leaves clear of the snow.
All the vineyards have always been organic and they were certified as such 10 years ago. Between the rows of vines, amongst the riot of wild flowers, I could see growing chickpeas, broad beans, and spelt, an ancient species of wheat. But the time had come to return to the modern cantina to see how the harvest is turned from mere grape juice into wine and as we walked back we passed the original farmhouse where great-grandfather Alessio Alesio first worked the magical transformation more than 100 years ago. The new building is a cathedral dedicated to the craft of the artisan winemaker. The tall towers of stainless steel, reaching to the roof like Gothic columns, contain the product of the skill that Lanfranco has acquired over many years and many miles. One of the main planks of his philosophy is patience – and plenty of it.
First, he let us sample the 2021 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo that was quietly maturing in not one but two of these soaring tanks, for he keeps the wine from the new vines separate from the old. The newer vines had a fresh acidity and both had liquorice on the nose but the wine from the older vines had an inky black colour and was full of tannins. The 2018 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo from the older vines was still in steel but with time the tannins had softened and the colour had changed to garnet. When Lanfranco judges the right moment has arrived, the wines will be blended and the result will spend six months in botte before being bottled. At this stage the wine has become beautifully balanced with softer tannins and a hint of salinity.
In common with other wine makers whose products are a long time in the making, D’Alesio have a range of Montepulciano wines. The most expensive is named after Giovanni’s grandfather, Mario, who was known as ‘il professore’ for he was a professor of agriculture for 45 years. This is a full-bodied classic wine. The bouquet is full of bitter cherries but also spices and a hint of the smokiness of a barbecue. In the mouth it is warm with cherries and tannins that have softened but still promise a wine that will mature with time. This is a wine to be enjoyed with roast or grilled red meat or a mature cheese.
However, in the same way that Brunello makers produce a lighter Rosso di Montalcino so D’Alesio produces two lighter Montepulciano d’Abruzzo red wines that may be more suitable to accompany light pasta lunches. Whichever you choose, your taste buds are in for a treat.