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Delhi Wine Club
Chasing Cherries in Cesanese of Ciociaria

Posted: Monday, 21 May 2012 15:50

Chasing Cherries in Cesanese of Ciociaria

May 21 : Cesanese del Piglio docg is an interesting red wine with red and black cherries as the most common flavours, that is produced in a small pocket of one of the five provinces of Lazio- Frosinone, more popularly known as Ciociaria by Italians, as Subhash Arora discovered during his maiden visit to the province close to Rome last month for an Ante-Prima Tasting of over 60 wines in less than a couple of days.

Click For Large ViewWhat is common between Frascati and Frosinone?

Frascati is a small part of the province of Rome where as Frosinone is the southern, one of the five provinces of Lazio; the others are Rome, Viterbo, Rieti and Latina. Many wine drinkers in India would have tasted Frascati wine at least once. It is a light bodied, easy drinking white wine made from Trebbiano and Malvasia Bianca.

Frosinone, on the other hand is a province which has had the honour of giving Lazio its first DOCG wine through a government decree in 2008-Cesanese del Piglio docg. It is made from Cesanese grape which is found only in Frosinone, an area more or less the whole of which is known as Ciociaria (literally meaning the land where Roman sandals used to be made). Cesanese is the red grape with delicate skins which gives terroir driven wine that has cherry as a common fruit flavour, generally with high alcohol, as I discovered during my visit to the province to attend Anteprima 2010 Cesanese del Piglio hosted by Aspin, the international wing of the Chamber of Commerce in Frosinone, the capital of the province of the same name.

I visited Frascati several years ago, as also Viterbo, Latina and Rieti but Frosinone and Cesanese were new names for me and partly because of requests from the hosts and partly because the curiosity to discover a new territory and grape, made me decide to adjust my busy schedule and attend the 2-day programme.

Blind Tasting Cesanese in Anagni

Wines presented in the town of Anagni- the city of Popes- as it is named since 4 Popes of the Vatican had been from this town, at the Anteprima were 2010 Cesanese del Piglio, 2010 Superiore and 2009 Riserva- the labels based on the amount of alcohol and the aging in the barrels. Held at the historic Town Hall at Piazza Giovanni Paolo II, Paolo Pellini, President of the Consorzio and the civil engineer-turned owner of Casale della Ioria introduced the grape variety and wines of the region at a blind tasting of over 30 wines .

Click For Large ViewAs Maria Paniccia, Director of the Chamber of Commerce and sitting with us at the head table explained to me later that evening at the gala dinner, ‘ after receiving the docg recognition we have been promoting the grape-this is the fourth year of organizing a 4-day event  ‘Rosso Cesanese’ which involves extensive workshops with the journalists  on the first day.’ She further explained that this was the first year that eight foreign journalists had been invited-including me, along with about 30 Italian counterparts.

She wasn’t surprised as I admitted that I had not heard of the grape before. That might have been embarrassing except Jorgen Aldrich, a journalist from Denmark who has been visiting Italy for the last 40 years had not heard of the grape before either. Another journalist from France, Mathilde Higot was equally sheepish and ignorant of the grape. It was good to know during the dinner in the evening that none of the international journalists at the table had ever heard of the grape! Naturally, it had been a special moment for all the international journalists to have the opportunity to taste a unique wine.

Cesanese del Piglio docg

Cesanese del Piglio is one of Lazio’s best kept secrets; even most Italians outside Lazio are unaware of this variety. This Italian red wine is produced in the traditional way, found only in and around the hilltop town of Piglio, a hilly terrain about 80 km east of Rome. Producers are generally motivated by passion rather than money, many making wine as a hobby or a second vocation, in their spare time and following the traditions of their families. Only 60-70,000 cases are produced only and only 5% of these wines are exported.

The zone includes areas of the 5 municipalities: Acuto, Anagni, Piglio, Paliano and Serrone in the province of Frosinone. It was given a DOC classification in 1973 and was the first docg of the region. The wine is blended from Cesanese di Affile and or Cesanese Comune (90-100%). Up to 10% of other approved varieties- currently Sangiovese, Barbera, Montepulciano, Trebbiano or Bombino Bianco are also allowed. There is also a Superiore with 1% higher alcohol level. With an aging time of 18 months, it may be designated a Riserva wine.

Click For Large ViewCesanese del Piglio is available in a variety of styles including still, sparkling, dry and sweet.  The wine has a deep red colour, and is delicious, full-bodied with a hint of cherries as a common factor in these wines.

We enjoyed the tasting of over 60 such wines and visited the wineries of Giovanni Terenzi, Antonello Coletti Conti (who has also won Tre Bicchieri award for his wines) and Casale della Ioria, some of the top producers of the region. Passion and cherries was the thread running through the producers and their wines. Though there was no time to visit them Marcella Giuliani, Colletonno, Villa Simone and La Viscola are also considered among the top brands. La Cantina Sociale Cesanese del Piglio is a co-operative that was started in 1960 and has a respectable place in Cesanese wines, producing about 30,000 cases annually.

There are several small growers and as one of the locals explained, ‘their business policy is simple. Half of what they  produce is sold to the cooperative, a quarter is sold privately and the other quarter is consumed by the family.

Wines of Cesanese del Piglio docg

So what does one think of the Cesanese del Piglio docg wines.  Based on the blind tastings of the wines one found that the base wines were quite delicious, with cherry nose and flavours, but the Superiore felt hot due to higher alcohol. Riservas 2009 were better balanced in general -they were quite tannic wines but tannins were not too aggressive and it worked very well with food.

Click For Large ViewThe area is seeing a revival of the grape variety and wines in a way. As a member of the Consorzio explained in the surge of activities during the last 3-4 years, ‘the area is also an industrial area and in the past there had been attrition in the work force and the vineyards due to workers preferring to work in the nearby industry. With the recession of the last few years hitting rather badly, many have decided to go back to the roots and are getting back into wine-making.

Though the exports so far have been negligible and limited to the bigger and structured wineries, the wines are well-priced for their quality and the uniqueness of the grapes has a great niche value for the connoisseurs. Since the wines go well with food, they stand a good chance to increase exports though their obsession with higher alcohol Superiore is slightly difficult to comprehend.

Other wines

Another wine from the area is a small quantity of white wine made from indigenous grapes-White Passarina.  This is a Doc wine from the area; it works fine as the quaffable wine but is not very popular in the overseas market. The fruity wine with tropical flavours and delicious mouthfeel made a great impression with my soup and seafood dinner at the impressive Grand Hotel Palazzo della Fonte in the nearby Spa and Thermal Springs town of Fiuggi and would be a great accompaniment  with North Indian cuisine as well.

Click For Large ViewAnother wine that really impressed me no end was an Olivella from Casale della Ioria. Pellini makes a 3-4000 bottles of this delicious fruity, light-hearted wine and claims he is the only producer in the area, perhaps the world. I would have loved to pick up a case of this wine-to me it was the real discovery of the visit although Olivella is also grown in Campania, Italy and used in the Lachryma Christi del Vesuvio Neapolitan area red wine blend along with the Piedirosso and Aglianico grape. It is also known as Sciascinoso and I am not sure if it is the same grape variety.

Frascati- Lest I forget- what about Frascati we started the comparison of Frosinone with? Well, as Pellini corrected a local wine person saying Cesanese was the only docg wine in Lazio; it has become the second wine in Lazio getting the docg appellation. The region of Lazio thus makes a nice pair of a red Cesanese and now a white Frascati docg.

Subhash Arora
Participating Wineries at Ante-Prima 2010

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