Vinnie and I love the centre of Rome for its history, its art and its architecture – but not in August. In August, Rome is to be avoided. It is hot, dusty and dirty. Like ancient travellers on the Silk Road in search of caravanserai, the Romans who are obliged to go there skulk from one air-conditioned oasis to another in whatever shade they can find. Tourists huddle under the protection of pavement umbrellas, their faces turned to the fans that blow water vapour across them. In reality, this does little but add to the already intolerable humidity. No, this is not the place to be. Instead, we take a lesson from history and follow the well-worn path taken by the Popes and Roman aristocracy over untold centuries and head for Frascati and the Alban Hills south east of the city. Also known as the Castelli Romani, here the well-heeled of Roman society would enjoy the balmy breezes afforded by the hills and party in their villas during cool country evenings. Back in the city, the plebs had no choice but to sweat it out.
In Roman times these hills were famous for their wines and, more recently, the vineyards found a ready market for their produce in the myriad restaurants of Rome. 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 none the worse for that. 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, there is a whole different side to winemaking in Frascati and we went to Castel de Paolis to find out more. We were met by Fabrizio whose family have been producing wine here since 1974. Starting with just a couple of hectares, they now have 11 planted with vines. Many other aspects of the business have changed over the years as well. Originally, their grapes were sold to a local cooperative but Fabrizio’s father spent the years between 1985 and 1993 experimenting with different grape varieties, eventually digging up the whole vineyard, replacing the vines with new varieties. At the same time, a new cantina was built with astonishing views over Rome, including St Peter’s. During construction, a vast Roman cellar was discovered and Fabrizio will be only too happy to show it to you. Currently producing around 90,000 bottles of wine per year, Fabrizio continues to innovate. He explained how he now has his grapes cooled with dry ice during the harvest to prevent any premature fermentation before they are soft pressed and slowly fermented at 15 degrees to maximise the flavours and bouquet.
We tasted two of the wines during the visit, firstly, the famous local Frascati Superiore DOCG and then a wine called Donna Adrianna. The Frascati has a very traditional look and taste to it, using the grapes dictated by the rules for its production. The colour is clear pale straw and the bouquet is fresh green apples but of an intensity that can only be achieved by the care that Fabrizio puts into the fermentation. The soil in the Alban hills is volcanic and this is reflected in the minerality of the wines. On the palate this wine feels almost frizzante even though it is completely still with clean acidity and well balanced.
The Donna Adrianna is a complete contrast. We tasted a 2017 which has a rich golden colour and on the nose there are hints of walnuts and lemon. That may sound very odd but this is a blend using 80% Viognier grapes. Of this 80%, 15% of the Viognier spends time in a French barrique before the final blend. Finally, on the palate there is a good balance with notes of asparagus and basil. But remember with white wines particularly, the flavours can change with the temperature. As the wine warms to room temperature you may find very different flavours in your glass. There is more about these and other Castel de Paolis wines on the soon-to-be-published italydecanted.com.
When you look at a bottle of the Castel de Paolis wines you may be intrigued by the label. The design is taken from a painting by the famous Italian artist Umberto Mastroianni, uncle of the film star Marcello Masrtoianni of La Dolce Vita fame. Ask Fabrizio to show it to you; it is on display with a collection of modern art in the reception room which has a fantastic panoramic view towards Rome and the sea.
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