Learn to navigate the most complicated country in the wonderful world of wine. Once a month you receive four hand selected small batch production bottles of Italian wine. We share with you the stories of the people and terroir behind each one, the grape variety that makes the wine, and the regions of Italy that bring the whole story together. While normally one would say “crack ’em open!” at Bergamot Wine Co. we encourage you to take an extra moment to pause, dig in to the Tasting Notes for each month’s collection, and start expanding your wine knowledge one bottle, one winemaker, and one grape at a time.
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JANUARY: SIMPLY LAZIO. UNBRANDED, UNFETTERED.
Welcome to Lazio. You know, home to Rome? It is, in my opinion, it is the strangest anomaly of an Italian region because it still lacks a true ‘brand identity’. Let’s just look at it’s immediate neighbors for example; Campania, easily the shining star of all southern Italy and Abruzzo with it’s very defined role as home to Montepulciano and Trebbiano (and perhaps now even Pecorino.) Umbria, where Sagrantino takes center stage and then of course there’s Tuscany, which, enough said really.
Honestly, for so long the only wines to be found from Lazio were the few variations of value-driven white blends from less-than-household named appellations like Frascati, Orvieto (shared with Umbria to be fair) and everyone’s favorite fun name, Est! Est!! Est!!! di Montefiascone. Thankfully, from those oft bland blends comes a couple of native grapes with fabulous potential to be picked out and followed closely: Bellone and Greco Moro. For red wines, however, it is all but a barren landscape of anonymity outside the grape that we have showcased here; Cesanese. All gems of brand-less in-between, home-to-Rome Lazio, indeed.
-Kevin Wardell, Wine Protagonist
WINE NO. 1
Cori, Lazio 2018
GRAPE: 100% BELLONE [beh-LOH-nay] Bellone is yet another one of those rare grapes that defies logic as to how and why there are not more champions for it when it is capable of producing incredible wines. I often refer to Ian D’Agata’s book, Native Wine Grapes of Italy, to see his take on matters such as this: “Bellone is a magical grape but I believe that very few producers who make wine with it realize that.” In fact, he goes so far as to call it one of Italy’s best grape varieties. Damn, Ian. You’ve got my attention (always). Bellone seems to hit all the marks that one could look for in a great white wine grape (even makes stellar sweet and sparkling wines!) So how has it not flourished above the rest in the area? It seems the answer lies partially with variety misidentity (yet again) as well as the seemingly endless Lazio trend of making wine (all wines) in a very simple manner.
GROWER: Cinncinato is actually a really great co-op winery model consisting of 126 growers, with a total of 250 hectares of vines. Remarkably this co-operative of farmers have stuck to their guns in their belief in their local grape varieties. Cinncinato is one of the very few producers who produces single varietal Bellone wine, as well as the high potential red grape, Nero Buono di Cori (the authority on these local grapes is actually Marco Carpineti, who we also feature this month.) The vineyards are all located in the volcanic hills southeast of Rome towards Campania. They are also organically farmed, officially so, as of 2019. The magic here, besides the incredible quality of the wine, is their unbelievable price point – Yay co-operative pricing! Always a treat to know about treasures like this before they’re ‘discovered.’ But fear not, I feel like we’ve probably got a few years before we get Bellone as a staple at our favorite restaurants. Tragically.
GLASS: First thing to jump out in this wine is the beautifully light white floral nose mixed in with a minerality that is straight up petrichor – a rare olfactory treat for wine nerds and best scent name ever! And I will never forget the first time I bit into a ripe white peach in Sydney, Australia as a young and wide eyed backpacker. This wine has that same glorious mouthwatering ripeness that brings a smile to my face. This is the kind of lively bright wine that has a sneaky complexity, one that can quickly shift it into the thought-provoking wine camp. It is So. Very. Easy. to fall in love with.
SIDE NOTES: Why the different shaped bottle? Although there are some practical reasons for certain wine bottles out there, this is most likely due to a local glass makers traditional preference. Something you still find here and there in the old world.
WINE NO. 2
Marco Carpinnetti ‘Moro’
Cori, Lazio 2017
ORGANIC AND BIODYNAMIC
GRAPE: GRECO MORO [geh-REH-ko MOH-roh] The Greco family of grapes has a number of far reaching relatives, the most famous of which is the Greco grape in the well celebrated Greco di Tufo DOCG from Campania. In the Cori region, however, there is Greco Moro – Moro referring to the dark hued grape skins. Yes, historically this name dates back as far as the dark skinned Moorish people who had quite the influential reach in Southern Italy. There is also a bit of the more rare Greco Giallo (yellow) in this area, which Marco Carpinetti used to blend into this wine but now makes it with only the Moro grape. There is still a lot to be unraveled about the ‘Greco’ family of grapes – there have been so many with the moniker ‘Greco’ – or some version similar (eg: Grecanico, Grecante) throughout different parts of Italy.
GROWER: Marco Carpinetti is a big part of the push towards organic farming and has become such an important part of Lazio’s recent viticultural resurgence. He moved to both Organic and Biodynamic farming methods fully in the early 90’s and will be the first to express just how vital and important that has been for both the health of his soils and for the quality of his wines. Beyond that, Marco is also revered for being the resident expert on these rare indigenous local grape varieties as well as the benchmark for producing great wines that truly showcase their potential. He comes from a long line of growers that obviously remained dedicated to their native grapes and the knowledge that has been passed down will hopefully be a huge part of these wines gaining the recognition that they deserve.
GLASS: Bright golden in color and a bounty of golden delicious apples on the nose. Add just a skosh of sweet geranium, cut hay and the salty scent of driftwood on the beach and this is just a wonderfully fun wine, aromatically. It tastes very similar to the nose, which by now you know is not always the case. Note, saying a white wine is reminiscent of apples is not always a compliment as sometimes that ‘cidery’ flavor can be a sign of some unwelcome oxidation. Not in this case though – the crisp and ripe golden juiciness just saturates your mouth and lingers until it finishes with a fresh cut pineapple and spicy kick of ginger. It is clearly not a shy wine by any means, full of complex texture entangled in layers that may provoke deep philosophical discussion. Prepare your id.
SIDE NOTES: There is much to understand about Biodynamics, but I’ll do my best to share the gist: Farming decisions based on lunar cycles, establishing biodiversity (no monocrop vineyards) and creating a closed loop ecosystem by solving farming challenges through natural means (Got snails? Ducks eat snails. Get some ducks!)
WINE NO. 3
Damiano Ciolli ‘Silene’
Olevano Romano, Lazio 2018
GRAPE: CESANESE [chey-sah-NEH-zeh] Nothing, as you know by now, is cut and dry when it comes to learning Italian grapes. Cesanese is a grape that I’ve always really loved and thought of as one that should be on the rise, as I was slowly exposed to the rare but delicious examples over the years. But Lazio has long ignored the potential of its native grapes, and it seems that Cesanese has been wallowing in mediocrity until recently. It seems that there are in fact two different grapes named Cesanese. The Cesanese Comune grape is the lighter example of the two and when grown for quantity, not quality, and is too often uninspiring in character. Cesanese d’Affile is clearly the more serious grape and is the cornerstone of most of the good Cesanese wine to be found today. Which, happily, seem to indeed be on the rise!
GROWER: Damiano Ciolli represents the new and up and coming world of Cesanese producers. Someone who grew up in a wine producing family, scratching his head as to how all the hard work his family were putting in would only amount to simple wines sold cheap in demijohns to the locals. In 2001 he started making a better product from his best family vineyard sites and since then has tirelessly continued to find the best expression of the fruit. He has focused in on two clones of Cesanese d’Affile that provide very different qualities, which he later blends according to what the vintage has given him, as well as adding a small amount of Cesanese Comune to provide some lighter components. The composition is always stellar, as the wines reach well beyond the grape’s current reputation.
GLASS: Such a bright burst of pomegranate! Such a distinct flavor that I’ve often associated with this grape, it is the first thing I both smell and taste. There are also cranberries and red cherries with background notes of wet clay and pine cone. Then it sticks the landing with a high toned spice profile of white pepper and cinnamon. Are you a Cesanese superfan yet? To be fair, there are very few examples quite as good as Damiano Colli and if you are lucky enough to come across his higher end bottling, Cirsium, do not hesitate to indulge.
Side Notes: Silene Vulgaris (or Maidens’ tears) is the name of the wildflower that grows in Ciolli’s fields. Olevano Romano is one of the three appellations that we now see high quality Cesanese from; the other two are Affile and Piglio.
WINE NO. 4
Affile, Lazio 2015
GRAPE: CESANESE D’AFFILE [chey-sah-NEH-zeh d-ah-FEE-lay] Cesanese d’Affile, from Affile, certainly takes on a richer personality than the other neighboring examples and perhaps most closely represents the type of Cesanese wines that first gave it its popularity throughout the centuries when it was cherished by Roman Emperors and generations of Popes. The grape itself lends to a wide range of different flavors and textures in wine and has successfully shown that it can produce great results from rosés to reds, from sweet passito to even sparkling wine. So it stands to reason that, finally, Cesanese may soon have its day. Finally. The recent arrival of some young talent, modern approach (and by modern, I don’t mean ‘modern style’ wines) and technique in winemaking, has started the Cesanese journey towards a new identity and (finger crossed) a new wave of great red wine from Lazio.
GROWER: Formiconi is a fairly new production to the area – one that has been brought on by a new generation of winemakers – those that have had the ever important A-Ha! moment – that they could be doing things better. The Formiconi brothers always knew that their father not only had an incredibly special vineyard site, but also that he had nurtured the vines so well for so many years that they had the makings of a wine that could be next-level. They launched the family named brand in 2002 and the production was miniscule at first. Not that things have exploded in size since then as there are only about 7000 total bottles of ‘Cisianum’ made each year. They have become an important part in the new story of Lazio wines and they are proud to be able to showcase the potential that Cesanese and the Affile appellation have to offer.
GLASS: Clearly darker and more saturated on all counts than the Silene. Steeped with cooking spices and violets, ripe blackcherries and baked strawberries – it shows how super versatile Cesanese can be. That savory backbone of black pepper cured salumi intertwined with a hint of bitter herbs and a waft of tar gives this wine a brooding deepness that makes it a food pairing rockstar. I just had this with a wood fire pizza with bechamel, mushrooms and black truffles and I am still drooling. Sorry, I’m sure you are now too.
Side Notes: For too long, the unending sea of tourists visiting an Enoteca or Trattoria in Rome were presented with wine options almost exclusively from Tuscany. These days you’ll find the type of local pride in presenting one of Formiconi’s wines that has made a significant effect on the growing popularity of Cesanese.