The Fugger family were from what is today Germany. The family controlled much of the trade in Europe in the 16th century, so much so that Jakob, who lived at the beginning of that century, is considered one of the wealthiest men ever to have lived. Their connection with the famous wine Est! Est! Est! is through Johannes Fugger,
Whether Johannes Fugger was a member of that august dynasty history does not tell us, but it is he that is linked forever to Montefiascone, a town on the edge of Lake Bolsena, about 60 miles north of Rome. Johannes was a bishop and in 1111 he headed for Rome for the coronation of the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry V. Fully aware of the excellence of Italian wines – and not averse to enjoying them himself – he sent his servant, Martino, on ahead with instructions to sample the local wines. Martino was instructed to leave the word Est on the door of the taverns where the wine was good and Est Est where it was better. Apparently, when Martino reached Montefiascone he was so impressed he left Est! Est! Est! on the door and thus the name of the local wine was born. Johannes became such a devotee that he stayed on, dying there in 1113. His tomb is in the church of St Flavian and it’s worth a visit for the fabulous frescoes in the lower church. Put a euro in the box to light up the church to fully appreciate their grandeur
So to enjoy this refreshing and historic white wine we left the old city by the Via Trento, stopping to admire the breathtaking view over the lake. This is the largest volcanic lake in Europe and the view over the caldera from here is spectacular. However, as usual, Vinnie was impatient and so we continued down the Via Bandita to the Cantina Stefanoni. This is not a new enterprise, having started in 1948. Here, we were met by Stefano, the current owner. Stefano showed us around the cantina dug into the soft volcanic tufa like a massive tunnel. In the depths of this giant burrow, where the temperature and humidity are constant, are stored the bottles of Brut, a dry sparkling white wine, in rows of pupitres, their bottoms raised to await the daily riddling that will move the sediment to the neck of the bottle – this is an essential part of the metodo classico.
However, this is not the Est! Est! Est! that we were here to sample and Stefano was happy to pour us a glass. In a country with over 500 grape varieties it is unsurprising that this is a blend but, given its history, it is only to be expected that the grapes used are all local varieties. Stefano calls his wine Campolongo and with a good straw colour there are white flowers on the nose – I could definitely detect elderflower – and on the palate good acidity and a certain salinity that comes from the volcanic soil. Classically, this goes well with fish.
Stefano had another wine for us to taste – again, an Est! Est! Est! – but this time a classico that Stefano calls Foltone. The same grape varieties go into this wine as the previous one but in different proportions and the result is a very different perfume. This time there was a prevalence of green apple and a hint of citrus although in the mouth again there was the clean acidity as in the Campolongo.
Finally, by way of contrast, we tasted a red wine, Rosso di Montanello. This is again a blend but apart from a small amount of Merlot, Stefano has concentrated on local varieties. This is a pleasing trend in winemaking in Italy where the winemakers are rediscovering their local varieties and using them in new ways to make exciting wines. However, this blending is not always easy as the different varieties ripen at different times, in this case necessitating three harvests. This wine has a good ruby colour with cherries and blackcurrants on the nose and a pleasing acidity on the palate with surprisingly soft tannins achieved by harvesting late. Enjoy it with red meat or game or a mature cheese.
As we left the Cantina Stefanoni behind, I understood why the good bishop was so taken with the town and the wine that he chose to spend what remained of his life here. There are worse ways to spend your declining years!