When in Rome… It’s much more than a cliché, it’s actually damn good advice when you find yourself anywhere outside of your normal.
When I’m in Rome I adjust as much as possible (not much of a chore). I skip the morning tea ritual in favor of a cappuccino, I indulge in a morning or afternoon pastry, and I seek out local wines. When I say local I’m not referring to Italian wines, which comprise a majority for my home cellar, I mean wines from the local region, Lazio. The wines of Lazio are very much unknown outside of Italy save the frequently formerly uninspiring Frascati. Don’t get me wrong – when right, Frascati is one of the world’s most refreshing white wines but too often it’s one dimensional, boring and frequently sold well past their freshness in export markets. (The rules for Frascati have been recently updated and we will explore Frascati 2.0 soon.)
In Lazio white wines are king with a great majority of the DOC (an official designation for wines in Italy) wines being white. Chief among the unsung red grapes in the rising star, Cesanese. Until recently Cesanese has been used to produce frizzante style wines redolent of Lambrusco. Cesanese by nature produces wines that are quite tart and acidic. Coaxing the grape to offer fuller, rounder fruit flavors is no easy task. However, an increasing number of producers in Lazio have accepted the challenge. In years past even the best wine bars in Rome offered one or two Cesanese-based wines but today I was greeted a selection of no less than a dozen.
The only red wine of Lazio bestowed with DOCG status is the rising appellation of Cesanese del Piglio. The relatively small handful of wines I have have sampled from this zone have been both enjoyable and promising. Beyond Piglio there are a number of producers blending the local Cesanese with other red varietals such as Sangiovese and Montepulciano. One one occasion I found a Lazio wine in the USA that was crafted with Cesanese, Sangiovese and Montepulciano. It was a very pleasurable wine.
Tasting Cesanese Wines
In recent days I have had the pleasure of drinking two Cesanese wines: Corte dei Papi, Colle Ticchio Cesanese del Piglio 2013, and Villa Simone, Ferro e Seta Lazio 2010.
Corte dei Papi, ‘Colle Ticchio’ Cesanese del Piglio 2013 exhibits the deepest, darkest ruby red color. The nose is filled with the scents of dried black fruits with loads of mineral (redolent of iron) with a dry cassis note as well. The palate confirms the nose as the fruit is full and omnipresent but never juicy being restrained by tart, cranberry-like acidity.
Villa Simone, Ferro e Seta Lazio 2010 shows a dark, ruby red color and no signs of age. This lovely wine is a blend of Sangiovese and Cesanese. The nose is bright with black fruits in the lead supported by notes of forest floor and fresh herbs. The palate is rich while very vibrant offering dense blackberry and black cherry flavors flanked by Cesanese’s signature acidity and tart fruit notes. It’s a simply beautiful wine and paired perfectly with cured meats and burrata.
These wines are not easy to find but they are well worth your efforts.
BevX will offer a full update on the state of Cesanese in February 2017. Cesanese del Piglio has recently been elevated to DOCG status.