In Italy, it’s tradition to welcome the New Year by tossing old pots and pans out into the street to make room for the future. Drastic perhaps, but you can see the logic: in a place with this much past, where “old” and “new” are difficult to untangle, why not start each year attempting a clean break - even if you know it will never take?
Lazio, our destination this month (and last January too but, you know, different wines), is located in west-central Italy, home to Rome, and so-named for the original inhabitants of the area, the “Latini.” The Latini language served as the basis for Latin, from which English derives so many words and concepts. One word I want to emphasize right now is palimpsest, which is defined as a document whose original text has been effaced, written over, or otherwise bullied by other text, but remains partially visible. Italy, as you might imagine, possesses a bunch of literal such records: the Institutes of Gaius, the first textbook on Roman law, discovered in 1816 hiding underneath letters by St. Jerome and Gennadius in the Library of Verona Cathedral, for instance. Apply the term’s broader, more metaphorical reverb to the country as a whole though, and you arrive at something that feels fundamental to the place, its history and, of course, the wine. Italy-as-palimpsest begins to make legible the Babel of gesticulating narratives - recent, living memory, modern, old, ancient, mythic - jostling for your present attention across the breadth of the Boot. Our two wines this month, like everything else we’ll try in 2024, are both products and participants in this argument, excavations of primeval tipples with multiple names, guises and fantastical origins to explore - or ignore, as they both translate just fine without all the lore as well.
Legend has it that after Aeneas escaped the fall of Troy, he sailed around the Apennine Peninsula and landed in modern-day Lazio. Here, he bore a line of descendents that would eventually lead to Romulus and Remus. These two brothers, the story goes, decided to found the allegedly Eternal City on April 23, 753 BC. The more likely and prosaic version is that the city grew from settlements on the Palatine Hill that had sprung up because the area at the base of the hill was ideal for pasture. Either way, Rome has dominated the area and much of the popular imagination; re: Italy ever since, but winemaking in the area actually predates its establishment. The Etruscans introduced the culture of the vines to the Romans, who were largely shepherds and warriors up to this point and more used to labor and conflict than convivial pleasures. Eventually the Romans assimilated not only the Etruscan’s land but also some of their customs and traditions, wine cultivation and appreciation very much among them.
Roman viticulture wasn't built in a day, in other words, but developed over the millenia, primarily in the volcanic hills surrounding the city, an area known as Castelli Romani. Lazio’s overall geography is quite varied, with a wide coastline and sandy beaches extending from Tuscany in the north to Campania in the south, the Apennine mountain range providing protection from cold winds from the north, and several large lakes that constitute their own microclimates. Among Italy’s 20 wine-producing regions, Lazio ranks 8th for output, with 80% of total wine production being white. Two grapes, Malvasia di Candia and Trebbiano, account for 58% of the plantings for white wines; the most famous wine to come from Lazio is Frascati, made primarily from the former.
Of course our white this month comes from none of these aforementioned varietals. Working from a 2,000 year old cellar in an ancient villa overlooking Rome, obstinate visionary Antonio Pulcini tore out his Trebbiano and Malvasia di Candia some 30 years ago to make way for older indigenous grapes, amongst them the “Grechello” we are featuring this month. Also known as Grechetto and/or Greco Blanco, Pulcini gave it this nickname to distinguish it from the identically monikered but totally different Grechetto wine made in Umbria. By far Pulcini’s smallest production, this bottling results in a mere 300 cases per vintage.
The red is 100% Cesanese ((cheh-sah-NEH-zeh), a grape barely seen outside the region, and which represents Lazio’s contribution to the pantheon of age-worthy Italian rosso. There are two unique strains grown here: Cesanese Commune and Cesanese di Affile. The former produces the lion’s share of what’s available, making a basic, easy to drink red table wine. The latter is noticeably different as it needs higher altitude to grow, yields berries that are less than half the size and packs a bigger punch of color and flavor concentration. The town of Affile is where the grape with its namesake resides; it’s also where Cantina Formiconi, one of our featured producers this month, makes their wine.
Terre Porziane Grechello 2022
Region: Lazio, Italy
About the Winery: Pulcini works in an ancient villa overlooking Rome, whose 2000-year-old, catacomb-like cellar features a 300 A.D. Christian altar. The villa itself once belonged to the sister of Trajan—the Roman Emperor in the century after Christ’s death. And in the 1940s it housed Orson Welles and Tyrone Power, when they were filming on location in Rome. More relevantly, the villa is surrounded by vineyards planted on southwest-facing slopes of volcanic tufa soils; sites rich in minerals and prized by the ancient Romans.
About the Winemaking: Made from 100% Grechetto, grown on less than 1ha of northeast-facing hillside vineyard. After a short maceration on the skins, the wine is fermented at below 18C and rests on the fine lees for an additional 6 months before bottling.
Tasting Notes: Bright pale straw color that develops to a more golden tinge with age. It has a gentle spicy nose, a clean ripe middle palate and a lingering, lightly minerally flavor on the finish.
Winemaker: Antonio Pulcini
Price per bottle / per case
Suggested Food Pairing:
Pasta e ceci alla romana (see recipe)
Spaghetti and clams in white wine
Vignarola (Roman vegetable stew)
Grilled shrimp with oregano and lemon
Formiconi Cesanese Di Affile “Cisinianum” 2018
Region: Lazio, Italy
About the Winery: In 2002, in Affile, the heart of Castelli Romani, the Formiconi Brothers started their project, Cantina Formiconi. The challenge was to continue what Nazareno, their father, had been doing with passion and mastery for sixty years; Cesanese of Affile, a surprising red wine he produced only for relatives and a few lucky friends. All the elements to achieve the best results were there: the brilliant position of the vineyard in the territory of Affile, birthplace of the Cesanese; the exclusive growing of the native vine along with the application of the most modern techniques; and the advice of wine experts and agronomists.
About the Winemaking: 100% Cesanese di Affile that is hand-harvested late in October. “Cisinianum”, as you probably guessed, is the latin word for Cesanes. After the first pressing, the must remains in contact with the grape's skins for 18-21 days to draw out color pigments and for the extraction of the polyphenolic elements. Fermentation takes place in stainless steel tanks. The wine is aged for 12 months in steel and then moved to French barrels for an additional two months.
Tasting Notes: The“Cisinianum” is fragrant, with lifted notes of roses, violets, dark cherry, and earth. On the palate there are flavors of sweet red cherries, holiday spices, and red rose petals. What makes this wine especially good is its juicy, dark fruit flavors, its medium-to-full-bodied palate with ripe tannins, and its very smooth finish.
Winemaker: Vito Formiconi
Price per bottle / per case
$28.99 / $313.10
Suggested Food Pairing:
Pasta and beans
Polenta with broccoli
Dishes with mushroom or meat sauces
Chicken al diavolo
Braised lamb shanks
- 16 oz of tinned chickpeas
- 1 garlic clove
- 2 anchovies, chopped
- 2 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil, plus a drizzle at the end
- 1 tbsp of tomato purée, or diced tomatoes
- 1 sprig of rosemary, needles picked and roughly chopped
- 3 pints of stock, (beef or vegetable)
- 7 1/16 oz of pasta, small shapes such as ditalini or macaroni
- sea salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- To begin, drain and rinse the chickpeas. Set aside
- Slice the garlic clove and sauté in the extra virgin olive oil on a medium–low heat for about 1 minute or until fragrant. Add the anchovies and stir well until melted.
- Add the tomatoes, chickpeas and rosemary. Stir then pour in the stock
- Season with salt to taste, mix well, cover and leave to cook for 15 minutes
- Cook the pasta of your choice in the chickpea soup, stirring often so the pasta doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan. You may need to add some warm water or extra stock depending on how long your pasta takes to cook. You want to keep the soup a bit runny, as it will thicken once off the heat
- Serve warm with freshly ground pepper on the top and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil