The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

A Look at Lazio, from Est! Est!! Est!!! to the Rebirth of Fiorano

A look at an unsung Italian wine region that’s poised for a comeback

IMG_1489 Lazio is most famous for being the region where Rome is located. It’s hard to shine in the presence of the Eternal City, but Lazio does have some wine gems that make it stand out. The home to Frascati, Est! Est!! Est!!!, Fiorano, and more, Lazio is one of the unsung Italian wine regions, though Lazio is definitely perched for a comeback. Lazio is a winemaking region with esteemed past that’s marked by frequent mention in literary works and legends, but it’s not merely the stuff of romance. For the past several years, Lazio has been in revival mode, setting the stage for the entrance of some wines, both white and red wines, that suggest a shining future for Lazio.

The Alban Hills establish Lazio’s viticultural credentials, given their well-drained, potassium-rich volcanic soils. The Frascati zone, one of the nine DOCs comprising the Alban Hills, enjoys a modified Mediterranean clime, enabling its wines to retain essential acidity. While most Frascati uses the Trebbiano grape, some producers endeavor to craft more distinctive wines by using Malvasia, an aromatic varietal, to provide a more substantive contribution; in fact, Frascati may be a mono-varietal Malvasia.

Trebbiano also enjoys the key position in the Est! Est!! Est!!! designation, another of Lazio’s success stories (according to legend, its name, meaning “It is,” comes from the critical reaction of a 12th-century bishop’s scout, under charge to find quality wines en route to the Vatican). These fresh, quaffable whites are central Italy’s answer to the whites of Cinque Terre or Pinot Grigio.

While Lazio’s producers work hard to raise the profile of the region, it also possesses one of the wine world’s most compelling legacies: the wines of Alberico Boncompagni Ludovisi, the prince of Venosa. Ludovisi’s wines—a Bianco, Sémillon, and Rosso—are hard-to-find treasures whose full story can be read here. Utilizing an early form of organic viticulture and maintaining exceedingly low yields, the prince crafted mystical wines; he destroyed the vineyards when no longer able to tend them so that his story could be told only by the wines he himself crafted.

IMG_3824This story, however, has sequel, as fairytales often do. Today, Fiorano is the personal project of 26th generation winemaker Alessia Antinori, one of Marchese Piero Antinori’s three daughters who inherited a good portion of the estate after the death of their grandfather, Alberico Boncompagni Ludovisi. A trained enologist, Alessia, in conjunction with her sisters Allegra and Albiera, took on the project of restoring the estate of her grandfather, the Prince, to its former majesty. Like her grandfather, Alessia is devoted to using organic protocol to grow her grapes, as well as the estate’s surrounding olive trees and vegetable gardens; in fact, Alessia is going even further, taking the estate biodynamic. Since beginning her renovations, Alessia has discovered rows of forgotten vines, and she has replanted the rest using old clippings and original rootstock. While the output of the estate is excruciatingly tiny, Alessia and the world’s wine-lovers are optimistic for the renaissance of this great estate.

Lazio’s red wines constitute a minority category at present, but many believe that red is Lazio’s true color. For now, it’s doing quite well with Merlot and Cab bottlings, the most well-known of which are crafted by Riccardo Cotarella—the Italian star of the consulting world. In addition to working with international grapes and Italian standards like Sangiovese and Montepulciano, several producers are working with the indigenous Cesanese, previously used only in frizzante wines, through both single-varietal offerings and blends.

Many will, perhaps, be on familiar terms with some staples of Lazian cuisine, dishes like spaghetti alla carbonara, bucatini all’amatriciana, and abbacchio (milk-fed lamb) alla romana. Lazians are particularly devoted to abbacchio, which serves as both a year-round specialty and signature dish of Easter), and the region’s chefs specialize in a few denizens of the garden like peas, zucchini, fava beans, and most notably, artichokes. All roads lead to Rome, the saying goes, and you can’t get to Rome without traversing Lazio. Here’s hoping you enjoy drinking some of the region’s wines on the way!

IWM’s December 2, 2014 eLetter will feature wines from Alessia Antinori’s Fiorano project.

Inside IWM, November 10-13, 2014: All the Feels Edition

A look back at the week that was

with GiampaloThis week was all about feelings, memories and passions. We ended the week on such a high note that it’s important to end there–with John Camacho Vidal’s love of Sagrantino and how this grape, the most tannic on earth, inspired new friendships on his trips to Umbria. Don’t miss it!

Before ending in Umbria, we took quite the journey. RKO interviewed Alessia Antinori, one of Marchese Piero Antinori’s three winemaker daughters, whose project is nurturing the legendary Fiorano winery back from obscurity. A huge fan of Canalicchio di Sopra, Garrett Kowalsky always loves this estate’s works, but the 2012 Rosso di Montalcino really sends his love spinning. And we began the week with a personal look at wine giving, and why feelings can inspire the best gifts.

Our experts similarly let their passions be their guides. Both Crystal and David Gwo let their love of a specific producer help them choose their wines, Josko Gravner and Vincent Girardin, respectively. Will Di Nunzio was led by his love of fall and the season’s shift to “big reds,” including those of Tenuta San Guido and Cupano. And Francesco Vigorito opted for a pair of longtime favorite bottlings, Fontodi Chianti Classico and Quintarelli Primofiore.

Here’s to your sharing what you love with the people you care about, and for letting IWM be part of it, on your table, in your cellar, and in your glass!

Six Questions with Alessia Antinori, Fiorano’s Phoenix

Our own Robin Kelley O’Connor sits down with the 26th generation winemaker

Fiorano_Dinner_Alessia_AntinoriOne of the great winemaking stories, Fiorano was an Italian wine-producing estate owned by the Alberico Boncompagni Ludovisi, the Prince of Venosa of the millennia-old Ludovisi family, active during a period from the late 1940s to 1995. The Prince inherited the land in 1946 and planted Sémillon, Malvasia di Candia, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, which he grew organically. He kept his selections to making two white wines and one red. Known for his stubbornness he was highly selective to whom he would sell, the Prince limited his wine to a number of connoisseurs, aficionados, and experts. Upon his retirement from winemaking, Ludovisi decided to uproot and rip out most of his vines, convinced that no one else could make wine as he did. He was wrong, and his granddaughter Alessia Antinori, a 26th generation winemaker and one of three winemaking daughters of Marchese Piero Antinori, is proving it.

Located on the same lands as Fiorano, the fabled estate founded in 1946 by Alberico Boncompagni Ludovisi, the Prince of Venosa, Fattoria di Fiorano is the project winemaker Alessia Antinori, daughter of Marchese Piero Antinori. After inheriting a portion of the Prince’s estate in 2005, trained enologist Alessia, in conjunction with her sisters Allegra and Albiera, has taken on the project of restoring the estate of her grandfather, the Prince, to its former majesty. Like her grandfather, Alessia is devoted to using organic protocol to grow her grapes, as well as the estate’s surrounding olive trees and vegetable gardens; in fact, Alessia is going even further, taking the estate biodynamic. Since beginning her renovations, Alessia has discovered rows of forgotten Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot vines, and she has replanted the rest using old clippings and original rootstock.

Last week was great for Italian Wine Merchants and for me personally. As part of our tasting series, we were honored to host a dinner with winemaker Alessia Antinori featuring the extraordinary wines of Fattoria di Fiorano, and I was fortunate to sit down and chat with Alessia, who was gracious as you’d expect.

RKO-Robin Kelley O’Connor: What wines do you drink when you’re not drinking your own or your family’s wines?

AA-Alessia Antinori: I go through periods and cycles of what I like to drink, because I like to change, and most of them aren’t Italian because I’m interested in what’s happening abroad in the wine world. Right now I’m drinking Austrian Riesling from the Wachau and other areas, and for reds, classic Bordeaux grape varieties from the Bordeaux region particularly high-end Bordeaux Châteaux and also Carménère from Chile, because it’s different and Cabernet Franc. But, I forgot, most importantly I’m totally addicted to Champagne.

RKO: What do you find is the biggest challenge in renovating the Fiorano estate?

AA: The big challenge is to give the same continuity and philosophy of what has been done by my grandfather (Alberico Boncompagni Ludovisi). Obviously my grandfather was a very particular character with a lot of charm. I’m very attached to the soil. So I’m very happy to give the dedication to the renovation of the estate. I’m a winemaker and I have an approach to the land that is very similar to his. I’m trying to use the same Fiorano natural yeast as he did, the same aging techniques, and I did a propagation from the old vines. I’m trying to do what is most similar to what has been done; this is a most challenging thing…to make wines that are with the same character, with wines that you hated, you loved, with a lot of character and personality.

In the 1960s it was so innovative, the idea of my grandfather to use Cabernet, Merlot and Sémillon. Today I’m not really using so many innovative techniques. If the grapes are good, I really don’t have to do anything. It’s not really a winemaker’s job.

fiorano bottles vRKO: Does the difficulty lie in the physical work, trying to recapture the spirit, or something else?

AA: It’s a physical work. I’m in the vineyards and I’m there all the time, I’m very connected. But certainly recapturing what has been done in the past and all the memories [is challenging] because many of the memories have been lost. [My grandfather] wasn’t a man that talked a lot about what he was doing, so I’m going back and talking to his assistants and talking to people who were close to him and I talk to them. In the last years he was very ill, so it was difficult. Most importantly I want to give a character to the wines and estate.

RKO: What was your favorite memory of your grandfather, Alberico Boncompagni Ludovisi?

AA: When we were young he would come and pick up my sisters and myself in an old Renault Quattro and bring us to Fiorano.

RKO: Italian wine drinkers and American wine drinkers are very different. What could American wine drinkers learn from the Italians? (And is there something Americans could teach Italians?)

AA: We have a wine called Antica of Napa Valley and it is a blend of Old World and New World. The Old World is elegance and finesse and the New World is power, alcohol and also fruit. The two together we can learn from each other; that’s a very straight-forward answer. The two blended, Old World and New World and also what they can learn from each other is unique. From the Old World elegance and finesse is something the Italians have to learn from France.

RKO: Let’s imagine that you had to pick a final meal, what would you eat and drink?

AA: I love Asian food—Japanese—but I probably would have a good Chianina Italian steak and a great bottle of red wine of my family, either a Fiorano or Tignanello.

 

Inside IWM, November 3-6, 2014: Keeping It Real Edition

A look back at the week that was

vtr and bottlesWe kicked off the week with a look at homonyms and how otherwise good wine writing can go bad. Do you know the difference between Slavonian and Slovenian? You should. We closed the week with a look at how good intentions can go bad–and why you shouldn’t judge a wine by its label. Crystal Edgar takes on wine fraud and discusses the importance of provenance. In between, David Bertot poured some thrilling praise of a stunning $25 Valpolicella that might be your new favorite Tuesday night red. And Jessica Catelli took us on a tour of IWM’s tasting events, big and small, public and private, and why she loves what we do.

Our experts were almost to a one fixated with single producers. Garrett Kowalsky explored his love of Burgundy legend Comte Armand. David Gwo celebrated Domaine Gallois with his two selections. Robin Kelley O’Connor prepared for our special dinner with Alessia Antinori by touting two wines from Fiorano, Alessia’s latest project; don’t miss RKO’s interview with this winemaker, coming next week! Only Justin Kowalsky diversified his love, choosing a pair of white Burgundies from Chavy-Chouet and Latour-Giraud.

Here’s to real passion for real wines from the bottoms of our real hears–and our real crystal glasses!

Expert Picks: Fiorano and…Fiorano!

Two expert selections from Robin Kelley O’Connor

Robin_B_8.6.14_72dpiThe Fiorano estate is a true fairytale property sitting on the outskirts of Rome, near the Via Appia Antica in the region of Lazio (Latium), 25 miles from the center of Rome. One of the great winemaking stories, Fiorano was an Italian wine-producing estate owned by the Alberico Boncompagni Ludovisi, a prince of Venosa of the millennia-old Ludovisi family, active during a period from the late 1940s to 1995. Famed wine critic Burton Anderson dubbed Fiorano’s wines “the noblest Romans of them all” in his 1980 anthology Vino, and this is just one of the many authorities singing the estate’s praises. Approaching his death, the Prince ripped up all of his vineyards, convinced that no one else could make wine as he did. He was wrong, and his granddaughter Alessia Antinori, a 26th generation winemaker, is proving it.

In 2004, the fabled wines of Fiorano came to IWM, their first time at a US wine retailer, and they caused a sensation in the wine world; IWM has the deepest inventory in the States, a point of pride for us. Following the death of her grandfather in 2005, Alessia Antinori, assumed the project of restoring the Prince’s vineyards, making them biodynamic, and slowly, with a lot of grit, she is returning the estate to its former magnificence. My picks today—Fiorano No. 47 Bianco 1992 and Fiorano No. 48 Sémillon 1995—represent just two selections from IWM’s holdings of the Prince’s fabled wines.

Fiorano No. 47 Bianco 1992 $124.00

More than two decades old, Fiorano No. 47 Bianco 1992 is made from organically grown Malvasia di Candia grape. A dark, deep bright golden yellow, this ‘92 still shows signs of youthfulness. The bouquet is full and intense with aromas of white flowers, candied fruit, pear, spice and earthiness. On the palate, the flavors are concentrated and complex, enveloping the mouth with a rich texture and spiced fruits of apples, pears and minerals. The finish is long balanced and harmonious.

Fiorano No. 48 Sémillon 1995 $124.00

Just shy of 20 years old, this Fiorano No. 48 Sémillon is one of my favorites in this unique and historic collection of wines. I’m a huge fan of old Sémillon and have had the great fortune of experiencing aged Bordeaux and mature Hunter Valley Australian Sémillon. This Fiorano 1995 brings all the excitement of drinking older Sémillon, as this grape offers some of the most compelling flavors and a bouquet that is endlessly intriguing. Powerful, full bodied and rich, this wine is drinking perfectly right now and has years of life ahead of it.

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