Cesanese is the grape of southern Lazio and, as such, has been and probably still is in the shadow of wines from areas like Tuscany and Piedmont. The wine received DOC status in 1973 and in 2008 achieved the prestigious DOCG classification. In order to discover for myself what this lesser-known variety is all about I went to visit Casale della Ioria (www.casaledellaioria.com). There we met Paolo, underneath the 200-year-old holm oak that stands in front of the cantina. That the tree is evergreen just serves to emphasise the feeling of permanence that pervades this place; when you enter the farm there is a feeling that time here is not measured in hours or even days but by the passing of the seasons. Paolo’s family has been cultivating grapes here since 1921 and the estate has 38 hectares of vines as well as olives and woods.
The first wine I sampled is called Campo Novo and was from 2017. Fermented and matured in steel the colour is bright ruby with a bouquet of cherries and plums with a hint of pink pepper. In the mouth the taste is of almost sweet raspberries with a good acidity and soft tannins.
Next I tasted Tenuta della Ioria, a Cesanese del Piglio Superiore 2017. From a different vineyard a little higher than the previous wine this is, again, fermented in steel before being matured in 20 hl oak botti. The colour is a dark ruby and on the nose there were plums with tobacco and vanilla. It is drier than the Campo Novo with more acidity and bitter cherries on the palate. Paolo recommends pairing this with a very typically Lazio dish called abbacchio which is milk-fed lamb and I think it would also accompany steak very well.
Lastly, I tried the 2017 Riserva. This is what the French would refer to as a cru as it comes from a single five-hectare vineyard planted with vines up to 35 years old. Fermented in steel again, but with the skins left in longer than the previous wines, it is then matured in a mixture of barrique, made of French oak, and barrile, made from Slovenian oak. The result is stunning with an intense ruby colour. On the nose there are plums and violets and strangely none of the vanilla and tobacco that I was expecting. On the palate there is a subtle acidity with sweet cherry and an altogether fine structure with a long finish, something that can only be achieved by a winemaker who truly understands the grape he is working with. It will pair well with braised meat or cheese or just enjoy it after dinner. Paolo explained that recently they had a vertical tasting, that is tasting the same wine from different years and they tried this wine from 1991 to 2016 and the consensus was that the best was the 2001. This gives you an idea of how long this wine can be left to mature.
I left Casale della Ioria with huge respect for Paolo as a winemaker but also with a new regard for how good the Cesanese grape can be when in the right hands. I also left with something a little more substantial – to be exact, some bottles of the other wines that Paolo produces. VSQPRD is a rosé frizzante, dry, with red berries on the nose and on the palate it is both floral and earthy. Made from Cesanese this wine is produced using the charmat method and, for me, this produces bubbles that are more prickly than those resulting from the metodo classico.
Paolo is not content to rest on his laurels and one of his developments is the production of a red wine from a rare variety called Olivella. Also known as Sciascinoso, this grape originates from the area known as Irpinia in Campania. Usually it is used as a part of a blend but here it is 100% Olivella. I tried a 2014 that was bright garnet in colour with a light bouquet of violets. On the palate it was dry and slightly saline with very soft tannins, good acidity and the flavour of redcurrants. This should go well with roast beef.
Finally, Paolo also produces a white wine called Colle Bianco or White Hill made from another rare grape variety called Passerina del Frusinate. I tried the 2019 which was pale straw in colour with a bouquet full of elderflower and lemons. On the palate there was good acidity with a hint of salinity and the flavour of green apples and a hint of almond. Clean and refreshing, I would suggest it as an aperitivo or with fish.
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