by Annie Field
Last Wednesday we were hosted by the Illuminati wine family. We stayed an extra couple of nights in the wintery Le Marche region, just to attend the work organised appointment. We met up with Stefano Illuminati around midday for a tour of their facilities, a tasting and what was described as a lunch that was to be “nothing special” in the organising pre-emails.
The winery and vines are actually in the Abruzzo region which borders Le Marche to the south. Stefano shepherded us into his Porsche for a tour of their expansive vineyards, pointing out the different vineyards (Montepulciano being the star, the white Pecorino an up and comer), trellising techniques (they use both espalier and canopy styles) and described with ardour how the business has grown since his great grandfather established it over one hundred years earlier.
Discussing his forefathers brought Stefano to a more surprising topic of discussion. His and his peers worry for their children. He told us that unemployment in Italy is an escalating problem and quite movingly expressed his concern for the future Italy and how it will be for his two boys. He told us how lucky we were to be born in Australia, we shrugged our shoulders and half heartedly agreed.
His family have been doing business in Australia since 1987, he told us. “My father loves your country.” On Dino Illuminati’s first visit back in the 80s, he was determined to find a long lost friend. He arrived in Adelaide (he knew that much) with only a surname and the name of the Italian town where they had grown up. He found the man, much older, bed ridden and suffering from Parkinson’s.
Finding his long absent friend, who had not quite found the better life in Australia, had emblazoned Dino with a curious infatuation; “Viva Australia!!!” he said to us later when we met him. Indeed.
Our “nothing special” lunch with Stefano was an absolute joy. He took us to La Sosta, a local trattoria run by friends of the Illuminati’s. As we were seated, he disappeared, only to come back moments later, having ordered our lunch with nonna in the kitchen. The menu they had created for us featured fresh local produce.
For antipasti we had fried Mozzarella (OMG), Ascolano Olives, a cow and sheep’s milk pecorino (cheese this time), locally made Prosciutto crudo and bruschetta (toast) with peppery green extra virgin olive oil drizzled over the top. The olives were particularly interesting; large and green, they were filled with a mix of cooked meat and herbs, then crumbed and fried. Very moreish, they went superbly with Illuminati’s sparkling white brut, a mix of Trebbiano and Verdicchio.
For Primi Piatti (“first plate” in Italian, most usually a pasta dish) we had two pastas, both served from the cooking pot on a trolley beside the table (lovely touch). The first was tagliatelle with FRESH porcini; the flavour was almost too intense for my taste, “almost” because the chef had very cleverly added just enough finely chopped parsley to contrast the pungent mushroom tang. The second pasta was equally delicious and simple; spaghetti with a light tomato and sausage meat sauce.
By this time we were in serious trouble, make no mistake when you hear someone say that the Italians are a generous people. Each of the dishes so far would have been enough to be considered a full meal by our normal “at home” standard.
The Secondi Piatti was a mixed grill, veal, lamb chops, sausage, pork ribs and pork belly, well seasoned and cooked to perfection. They were served with a simple cabbage and broad bean side dish, almost like a mash and delicately flavoured with garlic.
Well into our food coma, dessert is but a blurry memory to me now. I think it was trifle-esque, with a gaudy rose pink layer. It was the specialty of the house, so it must have been good.
Our meal was accompanied by the bottles left over from our earlier tasting. My favourite was the Pieluni, 100% Montepulciano; Colour – vibrant, dark, light-catching crimson, Nose – sweet black pepper, cherry and a hint of treacle, Palate – rich and velvety, elegant oak.
See other travels at Curiouser and Curiouser.