Illuminati d’Immenso

For those of you who can get the pun in today’s title… pour yourselves a drink! And let it be Illuminati Brut! (Answer below) The Metodo Classico is a small production, only 10 to 12 thousand bottles per year, but wow what bubbles!

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Abruzzo is not the first region that comes to mind when people think of Italian wine regions, at least not yet. But there is no denying that they really put it out there with their most famous native variety, which bears the name of the region as well: Montepulciano d’Abruzzo.

An important meeting at Vinitaly brought me to Abruzzo this summer, to check out what I had only sampled in Verona. Nicola, who led us through the Vinitaly tasting, is the namesake of the winery’s founder, and the fourth generation of Illuminati, who will carry on the family tradition – a delightful promise of the future.

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Nicola Illuminati, yours truly, the legendary Dino, Stefano Illuminati and a friend

His father Stefano showed me the winery in Controguerra, Abruzzo.

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Yours truly with Stefano Illuminati

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Dino, yours truly, and Stefano Illuminati

But it is the legendary Dino who steals the show every time: Cavaliere del Lavoro, he revolutionized the Illuminati label by starting to bottle on location.

There’s nothing like actually being in the region where a wine grows to get a sense of its nature. As Stefano Illuminati pointed out to me on my visit, the character of the Montepulciano grape is the same as the people of Abruzzo: ‘forte e gentile’ – strong and kind.

There are 130 years of pride in this winery, founded in 1890. Over the years, they’ve gone from 15 hectares to 130, with an annual production of approximately 1,150,000 bottles. A good 65% of those are exported. Of the 35% remaining in Italy, only 15% are consumed outside Abruzzo. With its thick skin, Montepulciano is a late ripener – harvest time is usually late September.

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The area around Controguerra is stunningly beautiful, and with a name like that, a poetry-lover like me invents all kinds of stories… This peaceful, peace-loving region can’t help but produce delicious wines!

At lunch that day, the wines were complemented by the exquisite Abruzzese cuisine, including these mega-ravioli.

While the reds are going to be the main event here in Abruzzo, please let me put in a plug for two of my absolute favorite Italian whites (the pick of the day!): Pecorino and Passerina. These are native grape varieties that will delight you at aperitivo time. Illuminati is doing fun things with these varieties and the local dominant white, Trebbiano, in their blend wines Costalupo, Lumeggio di Bianco, Daniele.

Even the rosé called Lumeggio di Rosa is 100% Montepulciano grapes, made as a rosé with an intense, engaging pink color that resembles a more full-bodied Anjou, and on the palate is no lightweight.

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They use cement, as you can see here, with two floors of cement vats. They do use some French barrique to tame the tannins. I simply love inspecting wineries…

While in 2007 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo rosso was the DOC that produced most liters in Italy, it has been a DOC wine since 1968. And Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Colline Teramane has been a DOCG wine since 2011. People, we are talking quality.

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If cleanliness is next to Godliness, then this place is heaven!

More than just the countryside will remind you that you are in paradise. There are big mountains here. You are half an hour away from Gran Sasso, the highest peak of the Apennines. And yes, that is a view of the sea from the winery. Talk about being in the right position!

Left: an action shot of Gran Sasso.  Right: a winery with a view… of the sea!

Why does it have this name that gets confused with Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, which instead is a Sangiovese-based Tuscan variety? Because back in the 17th century, the Florentine Medici family extended its landholdings to Abruzzo, in the Baronie di Carapelle. They brought winemaking techniques from Tuscany and applied them to the sturdy red grape variety of Abruzzo that makes structured, full-bodied wines able to age nicely in the cellar.

So let’s get it straight once and for all: for one region, Montepulciano is a grape variety (Abruzzo), and for another region, it is a geographical location (the town in Tuscany that gives its name to Vino Nobile, but that wine is made from the Sangiovese grape).

So if you want to know more about the title of today’s post, you should know that the great Italian poet Ungaretti wrote a famous poem Mattina that goes like this: M’illumino d’immenso. Four words, an infinite meaning, a world that opens to you. The greatness of the poet. But today’s title uses our producer’s name (Illuminati) as an imperative verb form (illùminati), to say: open your eyes to the wines of Illuminati and you will discover the immensity of a new world of taste. The greatness of the wine… and its producer from Abruzzo.

 

 

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