The Wild Abundance of Italian Native Grapes
In this weekly column, we hope to lead you to a destination of uncommon pleasure and discovery among the plethora of Italy’s native wine grapes.
Home to more grape varieties than any other country, Italy’s wine diversity is often described as endless. Many of these varieties are so climate specific that they cannot be transplanted to another region, they are better able to cope with local microclimates and express terroir, resulting in wines with distinctive and unique aromas. Nothing, however, is perfect and some interesting Italian vines are trivially underrated due to historical reasons, often being left in the shadows of more famous ones.
Fortunately, in the last two decades, this unique abundance is being embraced by growers and producers across the country as they look to revive forgotten indigenous grape varieties and capitalize on the exciting possibilities they offer. Luckily or not, this phenomenon has become a trend and people are now rejecting the so-called big six grape varieties.
Cesanese is the red grape variety that best represents the viticulture of Lazio. Its origin is still debated, but most of the researchers believe that it was born on the hills surrounding the Ancient Rome and has been mentioned in diverse Ampelographic Bulletins of the last century.
Acetbi (1825) has described Cesanese as being capable of producing a full-bodied wine from spheroid, blackish-blue grapes. Moreover, the scholar Di Rovasenda asserted its presence in the late nineteenth century in the Roman countryside, where it is known by other names, like Bonvino Nero, Nero Ferrigno, Sanguinella, Mangiatoria and many more.
Cesanese was appreciated everywhere in Lazio as a light sweet wine, more or less sparkling, and it was usually harmonized with fruit pies and marmalade pastry. Fortunately, Cesanese began to appear on the market as a still red wine, which has bright fruit characters and some earthy overtones.
This grape variety has two distinct biotypes: the large-berried Cesanese Comune and the less widespread Cesanese di Affile, which differ in some morphological traits but are absolutely similar on the genetic level. From them two DOCs and one DOCG are originated: Cesanese del Piglio DOCG, Cesanese di Olevano Romano DOC and Cesanese di Affile DOC, this last being made with Cesanese di Affile only, considered the superior one.
Cesanese del Piglio DOCG
Located in central Italy’s Lazio region, in the province of Frosinone, this wine-producing area covers the communes of Piglio, Serrone, Acuto, Anagni, and Paliano. The best vineyards are located on the slopes of the Ernici mountains and in Valle del Sacco, which has altitudes between 200 and 800 meters and present red soils due to high iron oxide content.
Casale Della Loria is, without doubt, the most important producer of this DOCG, a historic family-owned winery that offers us several labels of Cesanese. The Cesanese del Piglio Zero S 2016 was made experimentally without the addition of sulfites and resulted in a great fragrant wine. On the other hand, the Cesanese del Piglio Torre del Piano Riserva 2016 has a more decided character and structure. The Cesanese del Piglio Superiore Tenuta Della Ioria has an intense aroma of berries and is very equilibrated in the palate. Last but not least, the Cesanese del Piglio Campo Novo 2016 is a young wine, with floral aromas and fresh flavor.
Of equal importance is Giovanni Terenzi, presenting two interesting Cesanese’ labels. The Cesanese del Piglio Velobra 2016 is balanced on the palate and has a great personality. The Cesanese del Piglio Colle Forma 2016 is aged in oak barrels for a long time, it has a spicy aroma and a persistent robust palate. Last but not least, there is the Cesanese del Piglio Superiore Vajoscuro Riserva 2016, which is refined in barriques and has great complexity and structure.
Do not miss Maria Ernesta Berrucci wines: the Cesanese del Piglio Mola da Piedi 2017 has intense aromas of cherries and licorice, a complex mouth, with aggressive tannins and a persistent finish, while Cesanese del Piglio Superiore L’Onda 2016 has aromas of wet earth, orange peel, and a generous mouthfeel.
Pileum also produces three interesting labels. The Cesanese del Piglio Superiore Massitium 2016 has spice and mineral notes and is very equilibrated. The Cesanese del Piglio Superiore Bolla di Urbano Riserva 2016 is vinified in cement tanks and has aromas of red fruits, while the Cesanese del Piglio Pilarocca Riserva 2016 is aged in oak barrels and barriques, has a pleasant complexity, with balsamic and spicy scents.
Last but not least, you should try the two versions of Cesanese by Coletti Conti: in the Cesanese del Piglio Superiore Hernicus 2016 we can gather a varied range of aromas, with red fruits and juniper in evidence, but also balsamic and spicy notes enlivened by other red fruits; the mouth has soft tannins and elegance, with a long finish. The Cesanese del Piglio Superiore Romanico 2016 is more complex and full-bodied.
Cesanese di Olevano Romano DOC
Ovevano Romano is the municipality that gives the name to this DOC. It is a hilly area in Valle del Sacco, at the foot of Mountain Simbruini. The volcanic soils with traces of clay and calcareous play into increased complexity in these wines. Damiano Ciolli and Marco Antonelli are two reference producers.
Damiano Ciolli has two very interesting labels. The Cesanese of Olevano Romano Cirsium Riserva 2014 is at the same time fresh and profound, with marked acidity and tannins that are softened by fruity flavors. The Cesanese of Olevano Romano Superiore Silene 2016 has notes of red fruits and spices, with gentle tannins and persistent finish.
Marco Antonelli presents three interesting versions of Cesanese wines, among which we prefer the unmissable Cesanese di Olevano Romano Il Fresco 2016 that has an engaging aroma of berries with a pleasant acidic and tannic palate. The Cesanese di Olevano Romano Superiore Tyto 2015 is very soft in the palate, with wild herbs aromas: a wine to be stored in the cellar.
Check also the wines from Olevano Romano wines from: Riccardi Reale, Proietti and Romano Alberto Giacobbe.
Cesanese di Affile DOC
The Cesanese di Affile DOC is produced solely in the municipality of Affile, in the province of Rome, and Serrore, in the province of Frosinone. The vineyards are located on the slopes of the Affilani mountains, where the soil is composed mainly of red soil, due to the great presence of iron oxide.
Raimondo produces two distinctive versions of Cesanese di Affile. The Cesanese di Affile Nemora 2016 has aromas of wild berries and moderate alcohol. The Cesanese di Affile Nemora 2016 has an interesting aging capacity, the nose reveals a dark character, with balsamic and citrus notes, while in the month is appreciated for the consistent and elegant tannins.
We would also like to recommend you other Cesanese labels outside of the Denomination areas. First the L’Maggiore Maggiore 2014 with its well-defined structure, secondly La Rose’s La Faiola Rosso 2015, very delicate, with fruity aromas and round texture. Lastly, the Cesanese 2016 from Casa Divina Providence is a complex, tannic and young wine, ready to be consumed.