The geology of Italy is very complex but, to put it simply, this is where Europe meets Africa. The European tectonic plate goes up and the African one goes down and the result is the mountain range called the Apennines. It’s way more complicated, but that will do for our purposes. Where there is that sort of geological activity, one of the things you can expect to find are thermal springs and near a town called Orte, next to an artisan winery, that is exactly what you will see. The Italians love these springs. The hot sulphurous water is supposed to have health-enhancing properties and so they bathe in it, play in it and, occasionally, even drink it. There is one spring in Tuscany that proudly proclaims that it specialises in the care of the liver. Many is the time that I have toyed with the idea of leaving mine there for a refurb.
If you drive past the springs and turn left up the hill, after a short distance you will find yourself in the midst of well-cultivated vines, beautifully neat vines, vines, indeed, that seem to have succumbed to a woman’s touch. In fact, you are in the middle of Le Lase, an artisan winery run by four sisters. This hillside vineyard overlooks the Tiber valley with the high peaks of the mountains behind and as Giada, one of the sisters, explained, that means that the grapes can survive the blisteringly hot sun during the day because deliciously damp cool air comes to their rescue every evening.
The name Le Lase comes from Etruscan mythology and refers to a family of winged female spirits that embody genius and talent, which is why it was chosen and why it is so apposite. The theme continues through the logo of the female profile and the Etruscan names chosen for the wines.
A small artisan winery producing about 60,000 bottles of wine per year, this is a relatively new venture which started in 2004. The vineyard consists of 12 hectares of vines and Vinnie and I are excited to be here for two reasons. The first is the unusual way the sisters use some native grapes and the second is that it is harvest time. Harvest time is when a vineyard comes to peak activity, the slow, plodding, seasonally-dictated tasks of care and management are suddenly abandoned in the rush to bring in the grapes at the optimum moment. Here the grapes are harvested by hand and we watched as a tractor arrived with a stainless steel trailer behind it, laden with the results of the morning’s efforts, sparkling in the sun like so many jade jewels. Pipes were connected, levers pulled and suddenly the grapes disappeared down a large pipe whilst the stalks from the bunches were spat out at the rear in a tour de force of technological magic that left Vinnie and I open-mouthed.
We followed the grapes on their short journey to where they were being soft-pressed in what the Italians call a pulmone or lung at 1.2 Bar. I sampled the must that emerged and was surprised by the intense grass flavours. We left the must on its short journey to the stainless steel fermentation vats and headed off to sample some of the results of the sisters’ labours.
The first wine we sampled was a white called Zefiro, made from a grape variety from the Veneto called Incrocio Manzoni. The name simply translates as the Manzoni cross. Professor Manzoni was at the School of Viticulture of Conegliano in the Veneto in the 1920s and he was trying to produce disease-resistant varieties. He crossed Riesling with Pinot Bianco and this was the result. The sisters’ father used to enjoy this wine when he lived in the north and it was his idea to transplant it into Lazio. Now, the soils are very different and so is the wine. They have christened their creation Zefiro and it has a pale straw colour with almost a hint of green. The bouquet is of pears and in the mouth white flowers together with the minerality that is only to be expected on this volcanic soil.
We then tried a red called Terra from 2017, a blend of Violone, a clone of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, and Sangiovese. Garnet red, the bouquet was of cherries with the slightest hint of oak. In the mouth there was bitter cherry and some young tannins; perhaps this wine could mature a little longer but it can still be enjoyed today with red meat, especially cooked on the barbecue or medium matured cheese.
The final wine we tried is called Thesan and it is unusual in that it is 100% Canaiolo Nero, a grape more commonly used in blends. The colour is dark and rich and on the nose there is plum and sweet cherry with hints of pepper and oak. This was a 2015 and the tannins here still need time to mature a little more but it will go well with strong flavours like wild boar.
If all that is too much for you to resist but you don’t know where to stay after an indulgent session of tasting wines, fear not – the sisters have a delightful cottage in the grounds that you can rent so now you have no excuse not to follow in our footsteps to this rural idyll.