The Greeks that settled in southern Italy during the period between the 8th and the 6th century BC called the fertile land with its happy climate Oenotria; land of the trained vines. They most probably brought with them cuttings to plant, among them Aglianico and Greco or Grechetto, varieties that are still found in central and southern Italy. The Etruscans also cultivated wine in central Italy, with methods that included digging deep into the volcanic soil in order to ferment their grapes at lower temperatures.
This makes northern Lazio or la Tuscia as it is fondly called, a seriously old wine producing area.
Ancient but at the same time youthful.
People have cultivated vines, harvested their fruit and made wine here forever, but at the at the same time this area is still young as a notable wine region. This is not Piedmonte, where established vineyards have exported Barolo for decades, or even Tuscany with her famous Chianti and Brunello di Montalcino. *
The stories of the people that are making these volcanic hills of central Italy stand up and be counted are tales of love for the land, innovation, toil and dedication. They are stories of families that have moved in search of new opportunities, and it is worth visiting these wineries if only to meet the people behind the wine. This is a selection of my favourite producers in the area where Lazio bumps into Umbria and Toscana, around the sparkling Lake Bolsena and amongst the crumbling medieval towns many of which were founded by the Etruscans.
The story of the Sergio Mottura‘s vineyard is also that of 20th Century Italy, of social changes and the re-organising of agricultural Italy as it moved from the sharecropping system to direct management. One of Sergio Mottura’s uncles; the family was from Piedmonte, bought the estate at Civitella d’Agliano in the 1930’s while he was working on the new railway between Milan and Naples. The estate had vines, olives and other crops. The family used it as a summer retreat until Sergio moved there in the 1960’s and started to overhaul the property. The vineyards were renovated according to modern techniques and Sergio made the decision to run the estate according to strict organic standards. They sought to promote the cultivation of the grape varieties that typically grew in the area, particularly the grechetto, which as it typically ripens early had been historically given by the sharecroppers to the family, had led to it being made into a single variety wine. Latour a Civitella, an oak aged pure grechetto, was the first white wine from Lazio to be awarded tre bicchieri; the highest accolade in the highly esteemed Gambero Rosso awards. All the wines are beautiful, with an incredible purity that comes from the organic farming and the great care with which they are made. If you do visit the estate try and book the full tour, which is often with the affable Signor Mottura, and don’t leave without tasting one of the world’s best stickies; the Muffo.
You can visit the estate or their wine hotel which is in the old centre of Civitella d’Agliano for a tour, tasting or lunch, and even stay the night. Tana dell’Istrice Wine Hotel, piazza Unita d’Italia, 12. Civitella d’Agliano. Bookings essential (0761)914 533, email@example.com, full details details on the website.
The Verdecchia family came originally from the province of Rome, and choose the Tenuta La Pazzaglia estate between Lubriano and Castiglione in Teverina because for the potential they saw in the volcanic soil and predisposition of the gentle hillsides. Randolfo Verdecchio planted by hand most of the actual estate, restoring the original building which has a long verandah overlooking the vineyards and the valley of the Tevere river.
When I first tasted their Grechetto 109, made by the family’s daughter Maria Teresa, now the winemaker alongside her brother who manages the agricultural side, and sister who looks after sales and marketing, I was at a wine tasting at which there were a number of very important local whites. I loved the 109 instantly, and still do, perhaps because it is an unsophisticated wine like me, or perhaps because it has a zesty aromatic palate in what is often a very mineral driven grape variety. It remains high on my list of summer wines and we often serve it at Market to Table lunches at the studio. Incidentally it was the name that initially captured my attention at that Lubriano degustazione. 109 is the clone number of the grechetto grape (there are two clones; 109 and 5) which (supposedly) came from Greece. So I fell for the wine and the story, and then I met the charming Signor Randolfo himself and I sat under the terrace tasting his wines, (amongst them the Poggio Triale, and even silkier, smoother grechetto) and listening to the stories of a man and his family and the love for what they do.
Tenuta La Pazzaglia is at Strada Bagnoregio, n 4 and can be reached by driving out of Lubriano towards Castiglione in Teverina and turning right towards Sermugnano and Tenuta La Pazzaglia. Follow the well posted and clear signs for several kilometers to reach the estate. Telephone 0761 947 114 or email info@tenutalapazzaglia to arrange a tasting.
A list of my favourite local white wines would not be complete without Paolo e Noemia D’Amico‘s Calanchi di Vaiano Chardonnay. Another one to drink on the terrace at Il Vecchio Mulino (if you happen to be in Lubriano). Made by French born enologist Guillaume Gelly, who also did time with Robert and Vivienne Ritchie at Delatite Wines in north east Victoria, what a small world it is.
Brothers Renzo and Riccardo Cotarella from Monterubaglio in Umbria founded Falesco in 1979 with the intention of safeguarding the ancient grape varieties of the area around Lake Bolsena. The wine made by locals in and around Montefiascone had a colourful legend for a history but the reputation of being a sloppy table wine made only for the locals. Est-Est-Est was supposedly the inscription marked on to the door of a local cantina during the middle ages by an advance party sent by a German bishop on his way to Rome (est means is in latin, as in here is good wine). The Cotarella brothers set about breathing new vigour into the vines that grow around the lake, including the historic Poggio di Gelsi vineyard, and lifting Est-Est-Est, a wine made with a blend of trebbiano, malvasia and roscetto grapes out of obscurity. The family now also own a vineyard in Montecchio in Umbria which was designed to welcome visitors for tours and tastings.
You can visit Falesco in both of their locations, details on the website.
* It is true that Orvieto Classico has been sold to a wider market and exported for decades, making it a well known wine for the area, but the buying public equates Orvieto Classico with Umbria, while the area covers Lazio as well.
All photos are mine (amazingly, grazie Leonardo for my new old camera) and were taken at the Mottura estate.