Generally, the Italians wear their sense of history lightly; to do otherwise would impose too heavy a burden. That having been said, I know some who live just north of Rome who associate themselves strongly with the ancient Etruscans and speak bitterly of their defeat by the Romans, claiming that their enemy cheated and that a rematch is the only fair thing to do. As this happened in the 3rd century before Christ, it really is taking bearing a grudge to a whole new level. And today, Vinnie and I are near Frascati to explore this for ourselves.
South of Rome, in the Alban Hills, lies the site of the Battle of Lake Regillus. The result of the battle was a victory for the Romans over the Latin League. Considering that the Romans had the immortals Castor and Pollux on their side, the Latins probably have more reason for complaint than the Etruscans. Historians argue whether it took place in 499BC, 489BC or some date in between but Vinnie and I agreed that it was an awfully long time ago.
Lake Regillus was drained many centuries ago and on the site you can now find the De Sanctis vineyard. The vineyard dates from 1816. We were met by Francesco – the 4th generation of his family to run the business – who showed us around. The cantina was rebuilt and extended in 2009 and at that time a beautifully-vaulted underground tasting room was constructed. If you go to the far end there is a small opening and through this you will find yourself looking at a Roman aqueduct dug into the soft volcanic tufo. The evidence of Roman activity is commonplace in this area but the aqueduct is a real find.
Since Roman times these Frascati hills have been famous for their wines and, more recently, the vineyards found a ready market for their produce in the thousands of restaurants that feed the millions of visitors to the Eternal City. Even now, if you eat out in a trattoria or osteria in Rome and drink the house wine, red or white, the chances are that you will be drinking a wine from this area and it is pleasant enough. In 1966 the popular white wine from this region received DOC status. Named Frascati after the main town, it is normally found in a slightly frizzante form, and in 2011 it received the prestigious DOCG status.
However, at De Sanctis you will find something much more interesting. The wines here are organic – the Italians use the term ‘bio’ – and production is a modest 80,000 bottles across a range of six wines. The Frascati area is all part of a massive extinct volcano and so the soils of the vineyard have what the Italians call a distinctive minerality to them. In practice, this is a salinity on the palate, particularly in the white wines, which is very attractive. It stimulates the mouth, makes you salivate, making you feel hungry and so these wines are especially suited as an aperitivo and also pair well with fish.
The first wine we tasted was a Frascati DOCG named 496 after the commonly accepted date for the battle. The colour is deep straw with an intense bouquet of elderflower and hints of almond. The acidity and salinity were well balanced.
The second was called Diciassette Undici which is a late harvest wine. This means that the grapes are left on the vine until the middle of November which explains the name, which translates as seventeen eleven. The idea is that the grapes become infected with botrytis, more prosaically called noble rot, and this, in turn, produces a drier, sweeter fruit. This is a process that is fraught with the potential for disaster, most commonly from late rains causing the less than noble grey rot to step in and destroy the berries. The result is that not every vineyard tries to produce this DOCG wine called Cannellino di Frascati and of those that do not all will be successful every year. The De Sanctis version of this dessert wine had a delicate bouquet of green apple with apricot and peach on the palate without oppressive sweetness and was very much to my taste.
This vineyard is within easy drive of Rome, has a great atmosphere and the wines are very good. Book a tasting and head for the hills as the ancient Romans used to do.