Tuesday, December 15, 2009

More to Lazio Than Meets the Est!

Lazio must get the least love of any Italian wine region save, perhaps, Molise and Luguria. For decades, it's been regarded as an uninspired lake of Frascati and Falesco's ubiquitous Est! Est! Est! Having visited the region and tried a number of its wines in 2005, I knew this was not true. So I was happy to accept an invitation to taste some more Lazian bottles at SD26.

The discovery of the tasting for me (and, evidently, for its host, Food & Wine wine editor Ray Isle) was the native red grape Cesanese. It's grown only in Lazio, with a little planted in Tuscany. There are two sub-varieties, of which Cesanese d'Affile is the better. The best wines made with the grape come from the towns of Piglio and Olevano Romano. Though it has a character all its own, Cesanese reminds me a lot of the Cabernet Franc and other red wines of the Loire Valley. It has that lightness and those striking green notes. But, I have to say, talking generally, I like it better. Based on the two I tasted, its herbaceous strokes have more depth of flavor—the greens are less green, as it were—while the fruit is more immediately appealing and the overall package a terrifically friendly food wine. I wanted a bottle with my dinner that very day.

We tasted two Cesaneses: Damiano Ciolli's "Cirsium," which spends 12 months in barrels sur-lie, and 30 months in bottle; and Compagnia Di Ermes "Attis," which is first aged in steel containers and then spends a year in French oak barriques. The color of both these wines is striking. It's a very attractive dark brick-red. It's a color with real character. I'd like a tie that color.

The wines were very different from each other, yet, as Isle pointed out, identifiably the same grape. The Attis was a bit dull on the nose—muted cherry and mulberry that seemed to just lie there. But inside the mouth it was bracing and arresting, savory green notes tied up with cherry and green plum and spice. Great acidity and medium-bodied and ready to make nice with anything you'd choose to eat. I liked the wine very much, but would have to say it took a back seat to the Cirsium. This had a more enticing nose, with brighter fruit, charcoal dust and dusty cherry and plum. The palate was wonderfully different and complex. It was silkier and softer than the Attis, and broader; Dried fruit, lavander, currents and an ever widening finish. I don't know where this grape has been all my life, but it won't be absent from now on.

Among the whites (which is mainly what Lazio does), I liked the Marco Carpineti "Moro," a 100% Greco wine that had an intense, dried fruit, viscous, perfumed taste that one person accurately compared to "trail mix"; Tenuta Le Quinte's "Orchidea," made of 85% Malvasia Puntinata and 15% Grechetto, that had a mellow nose of lemon, bread and flowers, leading to a richish, slightly oily mouthful of more lemon and bread, offset by strong acidity; and the peculiar, but winning Moscato Di Terracina "Oppidium," a bottle of Moscato di Terracina that had a saturated nose of honeyed, fruity floralness and an almost bizarre, but forever compelling taste that can best be described as edible flowers.

Another note about Lazio wines. These bottles are all about drinking; drinking now, and drinking while eating food. They're what wines are supposed to be about. No trophy or cellar bottles here. And that's a good thing.

Only 10% of Lazio's wines leave the region. This tasting showed that more should take the trip.

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