The weather is still sunny and warm here and in between trying to organize and get rid of stuff, I’ve been able to enjoy an outing or two. I belong to the Canadian Club of Rome (CCR) which holds various events. A difficult thing to do in the present circumstances where lockdown measures are in place and social distancing has to be followed, but a visit to a winery in Frascati was organized. Frascati is a beautiful little town southeast of Rome in the Alban Hills. I wrote about it some years ago when we went there for lunch one Sunday.
This time, we went straight to the winery, the Cantina Imperatori, on the outskirts of the town from where we had a wonderful view of the vinyards with Rome in the distance. The terrace had been arranged for the tasting such that we could keep within our ‘bubbles’ and we had to state beforehand who we would be sitting with, be it alone, with one other person, or with a group .
Frascati is noted for its white wine from the Trebbiano Verde grape which is generally plentiful and cheap, as well as red wine from Cesanese grapes. However, in more recent years, Vignonier and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes are also being grown in Lazio and the wines of Frascati and surrounding areas are now more sophisticated. Cantina Imperatori grows the traditional vines as well as Viognier and Cabernet. We started out with a tour of the facility in small groups. It is not a large production, grapes from the vineyards are harvested in summer, crushed and the juice transferred to fermenters. Once fermentation is completed, certain wines are stored in casks before being bottled. The large casks you see in the picture below are made from Slavonian oak and impart a less ‘oaky’ flavour to the wine relative to the wine stored in the smaller traditional French oak casks.
A volcanic tufo cave is present in the vinyard. Tufa is a variety of limestone that is formed from water containing calcium carbonate. In the tufa cave here, wine is made in the traditional way with grapes transferred straight into clay amphorae. The grapes are left in the amphorae for at least six months before being removed and the amphorae are hermetically sealed once fermentation has finished to allow the wine to mature.
This was one of the most interesting and atmospheric parts of the winery for me. In Lazio, tufa caves date back to around 100 BC. The first inhabitants were the Etruscans who made wine in clay amphorae even back then. I had a feeling of going back in time seeing the amphorae in the cave as I stood there with drips of water falling on my head.
At the Cantina Imperatori, spumante wines are also stored in the cave. The wine continues to ferment inside bottles and we could see little bubbles rising within.
Back on the terrace, it was time to taste the wines. Our first wine was a 2019 Viognier which we were advised to taste before consuming any food other than bread. It was fresh and slightly fruity, apparently good with soft cheeses and sea food. Next was a 2019 Trebbiano Verde fermented in a steel container. This had a fuller flavour than the Viognier, again fruity but more aromatic.
At this point, we were served a plate of salumi and cheeses which was a good thing as both the wines we had tasted were 13.5% alcohol and if we had carried on tasting on empty stomachs I might have found myself under the table. I was very interested in tasting the next wine as it was a 2019 Trebbiano Verde fermented in an amphora. The taste was much more complex than the one fermented in the steel container, full bodied and very smooth, not a wine for idle sipping but would be great with food. Finally we tasted the red wines a Cesanese and a Cabernet Sauvignon both from 2017. Both were good but by now my taste buds were saturated as I was also focused on the tastes of the food. Good thing I didn’t set my heart on a career as a wine taster as I wouldn’t have gotten very far! I was tempted to buy some of the Trebbiano produced in an amphora but I had to remind myself that my focus should be on getting things out of my apt not bringing anything in.