One of the pleasures of living in the Castelli Romani, south east of Rome, is that one is surrounded by hectares and hectares of vineyards and olive groves. Big, brutish buildings unfortunately also abound – the kind much favoured by developers with a penchant for over-cementification from the 1950s onwards – and are a shameful blot on this territory’s natural and historical escutcheon. Vittorio Sgarbi is an Italian art critic, art historian, politician, cultural commentator and a famous Television personality. He is also known for his irrascible temper and bellicose manner in any conversation that so often has him degenerate into rude name calling and downright swearing of the most appalling kind. There is one issue, however, over which I would forgive him for such bad behaviour and that is the one regarding post-war architecture in Italy. He is on record for saying all these ghastly buildings should be razed to the ground and new ones put up. I agree.
And yet earlier today, as I meandered through the hilly roads to get to the shop of a wine estate, that of Principe Pallavicini, all I could do is take in the beauty of this area and the long history of this part of the world, one that is antecedent to that of Rome even. The sun was particularly balmy which always helps and thoughts of disappointment and let-downs were not allowed to intrude upon my reverie.
My friend Michelle knows all about the history of the Pallavicini princely family and its wine estates. She writes that this tavern or ‘Osteria’ as it is called in Italian “was mentioned in various Grand Tour guides (18th-19th centuries) as a place at which to stay and refresh oneself, and has always been a reference point for ancient travellers”.
You can read more about the wines at their website: http://www.principepallavicini.com/eng/index.html A couple of tell-tale leaves on the ground issue in Autumn … And here finally was the entrance. Romano was there to explain about the wines and other products on sale. I was somewhat surprised to find this wine shop to be quite so small. Small but very easy on the eye. As a lover of anything ceramic, I of course ooohed and aaahed over their showcasing choice. Romano, when asked, was unable to confirm, that these were De Maio tiles came from Vietri – but I am almost sure that they are. I was very much intrigued by this bottle sleeve as a nice way to present a bottle of wine to someone as a gift.
Also on sale were wine holders, useful for carrying bottles. This one is called Battle (www.battlepro.it/battle.html). I know of something similar, which is excellent for travelling, called Wine Hugs (http://winehug.com/).
Glued on the shop’s door were various stickers including the recent Easyfrascati.com, the brainchild of my above-mentioned friend, Michelle Smith. An Englishwoman born in Australia, Michelle has lived in these parts for 35 years, speaks Italian like a local and her enthusiasm for the Castelli (its wine, its history, its architectural and artistic treasures, etc.) is equal to, if not even greater than, mine. She has put together a brilliant and much needed website highlighting all that this part of the world has to offer (and not forgetting the wine of course!) and I look forward to sharing a lot of Frascati/Castelli-based adventures with her.
And this is what I bought. Whites: (1) Poggio Verde (that earned three glasses from the Gambero Rosso just a couple of weeks ago). (2) And 1670 … my favourite. The year 1670 is the date to which the wine estate can refer back to ! These wines have been served to popes and gentry and noblemen … and now to us, thankfully ! For the reds … Petit Verdot … and Amarasco (the latter comes from the family’s wine estate oof the northern coast of Lazio). It was almost lunch time by now and I was starving. Across the road … and very conveniently too … was a porchetta stand, run by Carlo and Anna. Yay ! Here they are … Carlo and Anna … And my porchetta.
As I ate my sandwich on my way home, being careful to drive carefully because eating and driving can be very dangerous indeed, and as I contemplated the many things I now had to get on with … (lists lists and more lists) … I harked back to another reality as regards wine in the Castelli area. Just a couple of days ago, it just so happens, Michelle and I met with another friend to have an aperitivo in Frascati.
As I walked into Piazza dell’Olmo … I was blown away by the heavy scent of grapes being pressed and processed by a local Osteria. One that is not going to produce quality wines like Principe Pallavicini’s but which will still be appreciated by many nonetheless. That’s a tub on a tractor, there on the right … with a machine to catch the grape juice as it is pressed … Look at all these grapes in the tractor-tub ! And here was Remigio, the man in red, running the whole operation … and pulling the leg of the guy on the right, telling him with a straight face that he was pressing Tasmanian Goji berries that are so very different from New Zealand lingon berries … You can see the consternation of the poor guy’s face on the right ! The pressing machine was quite noisy …
This Osteria in Piazza dell’Olmo in Frascati is much sought after with a devoted clientèle. Last Christmas, outside their Osteria, they dressed up a wine barrel to make a Christmas crèche …
Some might find this very odd indeed … using a wine cask as a backdrop for a Nativity scene. But this is Frascati !And this is Piazza di Santa Maria in Vivario … fondly known to all of us as Piazza San Rocco. And this is where Michelle, Claire and I had our aperitivo, with the Bishop’s 15th Century palace to our left, at a place called “La Stanza del Duca”. The Duke in question being … the Duke of York. Why the Duke of York? I’ll tell you another time …
This too is Frascati and I love it !