In Grotte di Castro, a picturesque village just outside of Gradoli (about 70 miles north of Rome and to the west of Lake Bolsena), I met Antonella Pacchiarotti (www.vinipacchiarotti.it) who introduced me to the awesome versatility of the local Aleatico grape, a variety that certainly deserves to be better known.
Antonella is single-minded in that she grows only the Aleatico grape but after that all bets are off. What follows is an essay on what you can do with just one grape. The DOC wine for this grape is red but she is not interested and produces a full range of wines, all 100% Aleatico, all fermented in stainless steel before being bottled so they never see an oak barrel. It is as though she has chosen to work blindfolded with one arm tied behind her back because blending and oak are two of the chief tools of the winemaker’s trade.
The terroir here has a big effect on the wines. At around 400 metres above sea level and close to the lake, the grapes can suffer from the heat during the day – which protects them from mould – and they recover during the night due to the humidity from the lake. The soil here is volcanic which lends an almost saline minerality, particularly to the white wines. Antonella only has about 3.5 hectares of vineyards producing around 9,000 bottles of wine per year in total so if you are tempted to try them get in touch with her directly because not all wines will always be available.
Antonella’s take on a white wine is called Matee and we tasted a 2017. The first thing of note was the bouquet, unusually with a suggestion of mint but with hints of citrus, perhaps grapefruit. On the palate the acidity was not intrusive and with bitter almond and white cherry. This is a truly remarkable achievement when starting from a red grape.
The second was called Ramatico, a blend of rame (Italian for copper) and Aleatico; copper because that is the colour of this beautiful nectar that arrived by accident. Antonella left the must, the unfermented grape juice, in contact with the skins for too long and some of the colour leached from them producing this beautiful warm hue. Instead of abandoning it as a mistake, she persevered and we should be glad she did. We tasted the 2018 and I can best describe it as charismatic. If the colour doesn’t capture you then the perfume of apricot, pineapple and orange with maybe a hint if liquorice surely will. On the palate again there is the presence of tropical fruits – fabulous.
Moving towards the reds, the first we tried was Cavarosso a beautifully balanced dry wine. The grapes are macerated on the skins for ten days and the result has a bouquet of raspberry, roses and violet with a hint of cinnamon – with light tannins, try it with cheese, salami or red meat. By contrast, Butini is a sweet wine with a deep red colour and rich with cherry on the nose. Try it with cakes, pasties or cantucci (Tuscan hazelnut or almond biscuits).
The final wine was a passito, a wine made with grapes that have been allowed to dry on a trellises for around 30 days. The result is rich, dark and mellow with hints of liquorice and coffee on the nose and bitter cherry and chocolate on the palate. An incredible achievement when you consider that this wine has never seen the inside of a wooden barrel.
All in all there, is something here for everyone and every occasion – a truly stunning achievement from a supremely talented artisan.
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