The Devil went down to Gradoli, a small town on the west side of Lake Bolsena, about 70 miles north of Rome. Here, he proceeded to make a real nuisance of himself. He lived in a cave near the town and amused himself by making the lives of the inhabitants miserable. Many brave young men challenged him without success. Finally, one evening when the demon went home he found a lion in his cave. He challenged the interloper but was defeated and fled back to hell. The victorious carnivore fell asleep on the demon’s club. In the morning, the lion woke to find the club had sprouted leaves and become the Aleatico grape. If further proof were needed, just look at the town’s coat of arms, a lion rampant next to a vine. Now, the more prosaic can search the internet and find reams of turgid prose discussing the DNA of this grape and its possible origins but Vinnie and I were just happy to find a grape where it should be, namely in its natural surroundings.
In Grotte di Castro, a picturesque village just outside of Gradoli, I met Antonella Pacchiarotti, the lady who told me this story. More importantly, she introduced me to the awesome versatility of this grape. Antonella is single-minded in that she grows only the Aleatico grape but after that all bets are off. What follows is an essay on what you can do with just the one grape. The DOC wine for this grape is red but she is not interested and produces a full range of wines, all 100% Aleatico, all fermented in stainless steel before being bottled – these wines never see an oak barrel. It is as though she has chosen to work blindfolded with one arm tied behind her back because blending and oak are two of the chief tools of the winemaker’s trade.
The terroir here has a big effect on the wines, at around 400 metres above sea level and close to the lake. The grapes can suffer from the heat during the day, but that protects them from mould and they recover during the night due to the humidity from the lake. Antonella only has about 3.5 hectares of vineyards producing around 9,000 bottles of wine per year in total. If you are tempted to try them, get in touch with her directly because not all wines will always be available. In fact, this year she was explaining that because of the COVID-19 pandemic fewer people were out in the vineyards and the wild boar and deer were becoming bolder and eating the maturing grapes from the vines.
There are some fantastic wines which stand head and shoulders above that of other wineries. The first is Antonella’s take on a white wine called Matee – we tasted a 2017. The first thing of note was the bouquet, unusually mint but with hints of citrus, perhaps grapefruit. On the palate the acidity was not intrusive with flavours of bitter almond and white cherry. A truly remarkable achievement when starting from a red grape.
The second was called Ramatico a combination of rame, Italian for copper, and Aleatico; copper because that is the colour of this beautiful nectar arrived at by accident. Antonella left the must, the unfermented grape juice, in contact with the skins for too long and some of the colour leached from them producing this beautiful warm hue. Instead of abandoning it as a mistake, she persevered and we should be glad she did. We tasted the 2018 and I can best describe it as charismatic. If the colour doesn’t capture you then the perfume of apricot, pineapple and orange with maybe a hint if liquorice surely will. On the palate again there is the presence of tropical fruits – fabulous!
The final wine was a passito, a wine made with grapes that have been allowed to dry on a trellises for around 30 days. The result is rich, dark and mellow with hints of liquorice and coffee on the nose and bitter cherry and chocolate on the palate. This is an incredible achievement when you consider that this wine has never seen the inside of a wooden barrel.
There are more wonderful wines produced by Antonella but a discussion of those will be on the website. A visit to her cantina in the village is guaranteed to be an experience for Antonella is so filled with an infectious enthusiasm you cannot help but be caught up in it. You will leave her cantina feeling as though you’ve just been to a wonderful dinner party with a dear friend… and you will have your bottles of wine to remind you of your meeting with someone who deserves to become one of the more famous winemakers in Italy.