The A1 autostrada between Roma (Rome) and Firenze (Florence) is not the tiring and monotonous driving that we Australians know.
If you have ever tackled the Hay Plains or taken a short trip west along the Warrego Highway to Roma (Queensland); now there is something quite boring.
No, the way that Italians behave with their autos calls for concentration, and this was not assisted by the GFC-influenced slow rate of repair of the country’s number one highway. It’s close to a basket case, almost.
So the temptation to lunch at the Umbrian hill top town of Orvieto, in the Orvieto wine producing DOC was too great.
First one has to negotiate the autostrada payment system, having changed somewhat since 2007, and it proved unable to accept debit cards.
One cannot get too excited though: it would be un-Italian of Budget Rentals to give their hirers some good advice, even their touring map is simply too discreet on autostrada process.
My soon-to-be-Italian speaking wife could not decipher the swearing style Italian lingo which comes with a burst when Aussies hold up the automatic cashier.
Toll payments complete my appetite for a local Orvieto meal was chosen by the Slow Food Edition 2010, Osterie D’Italia – it was Trattoria La Palombo.
Leave you cars at the bottom of the hill (as usual the occasions for parking are both limited and chaotic without ample provision for tourists); take the funicular (cable car lift) to a beautiful old medieval town.
The commercial side was just shutting up its shops for lunch and the ristorantes were buzzing.
From a curious menu, partly translated in French, German and English but only legible with a magnifying glass, is where knowledge of Italian dish names gave assistance.
The antipasti were a must; prosciutto, two ways (crudo and cotto-cooked and salted hams), several salamis, one wild boar, fatty leg shaved ham, artichokes.
There was no wine by-the-glass, and the Italian rule of zero tolerance of blood alcohol does not assist the wine choice.
However there are no sommeliers here! Take a stab and I did not wish to buy rubbish wine (no screw cap remember); crappy cork only.
The lucky bottle was Arcosesto Bianco (white, 87); what an authoritative sounding wine name from Cantina Altarocca nearby, IGT, 12.5%, a trio of grapes in classic white fashion-grechetto, procanico (rare, ancient variety) and the ever-present malvasia.
The pronouncement: unwooded, reasonably pale as the market now expects, bland but clean, solidsy which I think creates interest, then a crunchy, half-bitter palate signifying mainly rustic winemaking.
Altarocca is a small producer 5 km away, high at 300 metres on the slopes of the Rocca Ripensa, growing their grapes in tufa or weathered volcanic rock. The cold maceration of these white grapes by the way is not working.
Keeping one eye on the drive ahead this wine was also paired with umbrichelli or Umbrian style kitchen-made pasta (that morning), about 70 mm sliced dough about the thickness of hokkien noodle but showing the hand-sliced shapes.
The traditional accompanying sauce was arrabbiata; squashed tomatoes and onions, minimal seasoning save a heap of salt and ample pepper to heat the taste. Fabulous with the Arcosesto.
Trattoria Palombo (14/20) turned out to be tradition with tradition. There were collections of culinary memorabilia for generations of the same family no doubt since the 50s. Table decor was basic but functional and bottles of olive oil enthusiastically taken to tables for flavour lubrication.
There was a recent report that Marchese Piero Antinori in his capacity as chair of the Istituto di Grandi Marchi (Institute of Italian Fine Wines) which represents premier Italian makers in 17 regions, calling for more Italian trebbiano vineyards to be uprooted.
He emphasised there was no place in Italian wine for heavily fertilised, over-cropped trebbiano grapes which produce thin, flavourless drinks. And that a third of Italy’s vines, namely these types in central Italy (high cropping of 250 hl/ha versus 60 in Chianti) should be grubbed.
I was wondering if some of the flatland grapes along the A1 in Orvieto where in Antinori’s sights. But then the Antinoris have a winery in Puglia further south, and no doubt this region grows ample flavourless trebbiano too.
And worse still it is presented in restaurants as a golden drink (poorly made), looking more as a drink for the ancient Roman days.
La Palomba tel 39 0763 343395 via Manente, 16 www.cantinaaltrocca.it
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