A Moveable Feast: La Panarda at Le Virtú.  40 Courses, 9 1/2 Hours of Abruzzo Via South Philly.

La Panarda: Sunday, 1:50 p.m.

I arrive a few minutes early to the sight of people packing the front bar. The thought of infinite wine in my head, I cruise past everyone and settle in by the back hallway, as Francis Cretarola and his wife, Catherine Lee, move about the restaurant, greeting guests. Two openings on the left give way to a cozy, sectioned off little dining room where two small tables are joined together; a near chest high partition on the right abuts two long tables on the right, the glassware, the porcelain sparkling, waiting.

This is where I meet the wine guys.

Fosco Amoroso, with his wiry, bushy beard, towers over all of us. His accent, along with that of Federico Dall’Olmo—whose wispy beard and suit somehow says jazz casual—is heavy with the old country. In between them is Sam Levitas, whose shrewd eyes—matched equally by his suit—seem ready to scream bullshit should I pretend to know more than I do about wine.

Amoroso is a wine consultant for Tricana Imports, which sources wine from all over Italy. Their 9 Abruzzi offerings—8 will be on display tonight—come from a small winery in Southern Abruzzo. Levitas is the founder and CEO, while Dall’Olmo is a consultant for The Artisan’s Cellar, the distributor that Tricana uses for Pennsylvania.

I immediately ask about the Cococciola, since Cicala mentioned it while stressing the rare nature of these wines.

“For sure, it’s the only one in PA,” Amoroso says. “There could be, from time to time, 3 producers represented in the U.S.”

It’s appropriately set to follow the opener, a Pecorino Spumante Brut, as Cococciola is used as a base for sparkling wine. Hence, right away, there’s a sense of progression to match what’s going on with the other side of the menu.

“As a table wine, you want it to be balanced and restrained without the high acidity,” Levitas says.

But preventing the grapes from going off into sparkling country takes a lot of time and care—two vital components made possible by Cantina Fretana, a cooperative from a small town in Chieti, Abruzzo’s southernmost province. With all the wines coming from this co-op, we would be getting a lesson in both what one area, as well a more artisanal approach, can produce.

“You have one grower per hectare. The vineyards are getting a lot of attention. With a larger co-op or mass production, that’s not happening. There’s a lot more control,” Levitas says. Whereas others may focus on quantity, an abundance of care is given to the grapes: leaves are pared to ensure adequate sunlight, while a sufficient amount of spring cutbacks—grapes sacrificed or cut away—are made to increase the quality of grapes on the vine. With a grape like Cococciola, this is imperative: too many grapes clustered together leads to higher acidity, rather than the subtleties of the grape you’d want to explore via its use as a table wine.

“If you don’t start with a good grape, there isn’t much you can do,” Levitas says.

The co-op provides a way for small farmers to have a hand in making good wine by getting them access to better equipment, while also pairing them with oenologists and agronomists. The farmers produce a better product, while the co-op handles the fermentation end. Matching them with importers and distributors provides the financial backing that makes it all possible.

“I’m sure there were some good table wines being made by some farmers, but most were making mediocre wine that couldn’t travel,” Levitas says.

The focus on time and attention for this wine doesn’t stop at the farm. The wine is aged in wood, instead of stainless steel. A wooden baton keeps the sediment from settling, thus extending more flavor and a subtle creaminess to the wine. This French technique of bâtonnage, which can lower tart acidity, is now widely used in Italy Amoroso says, with its application famous for Moscatos.

“What the Italians are doing, we’re in a great renaissance for wine,” he adds.

3 responses to “A Moveable Feast: La Panarda at Le Virtú.  40 Courses, 9 1/2 Hours of Abruzzo Via South Philly.

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