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 the Frascati area in the hills southeast of Rome and none the worse for that. However, there is a whole different side to winemaking in Frascati. In 1966 the popular white wine from this region received DOC status and in 2011 it received the prestigious DOCG status.
To find out more, we went to Castel de Paolis (www.casteldepaolis.com) where 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 and replacing the vines with new varieties. At the same time, a new cantina was built with astonishing views over Rome. 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.
This area is more famous for its white wines and so the Frascati Superiore is a good place to start. This wine 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. A strong white at 14% alcohol, it is blended from 70% Malvasia del Lazio with the remaining 30% made up of Trebbiano Giallo, Bombino and Bellone. Enjoy it with cheese or fish.
Fabrizio makes his own special blend called Donna Adrianna and this 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. At 14.5% alcohol this wine packs a punch and the stronger flavours mean it can be paired with chicken or pork and medium-matured cheeses.
The last white wine to discuss here is Muffa Nobile. This is a late harvest wine. This means that the grapes are left on the vine until November. The idea is that the grapes become infected with botrytis, more prosaically called noble rot, and this, in turn, produces a drier, sweeter fruit. The result is a dessert wine with a bouquet of apricot and honey. The minerality balances the sweetness on the palate so it can be enjoyed with chocolate-based dishes. At 13.5% it is not as strong as the taste might suggest and is a beautiful end to any meal.
Finally, to balance, it would be remiss not to look at one of the reds from Castel de Paolis. I Quattro Mori is a blend of Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot. It is a rich deep red in colour with cherries and blackcurrants on the nose. On the palate there is black pepper and amarena cherry with hints of vanilla and the warmth of alcohol for this is 14% alcohol. There is the minerality that is to be expected from this soil but the lack of tannins is noticeable.
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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