Wine in Italy is much more than a drink. Much more than a lifestyle. It is a priesthood. From Veneto to Sicily, all regions produce wine, without exception. Its viticulture goes back to the oldest antiquity: the Romans and before them the Etruscans, already cultivated vines. The Greeks even gave the territory the nickname of Œnotria, meaning the land of wine.
With 690,000 hectares planted and no less than 9.2% of the world’s wine surface, let’s embark for an overview of the world’s largest producer since 2015(1).
Turning back the paths of Italy, starting with Sardinia, we met Stephano and Imma Flores, a lovely Sardinian-Catalan couple, on an epic ferry trip departing from the port of Barcelona.
A meeting as beautiful as fortuitous, which gave us the pleasure of being welcomed by the family of Stephano during three days, in the small coastal village of Marceddi, west of Sardinia. After having literally installed our motorhome in their garden, we were offered – among other local specialties – to enjoy delicious octopus spaghetti and cockle penne.
Fate would have even wanted us to stay during the feasts of the Madonna (mid-August). A sacred annual procession for Marceddi, during which a procession of hundreds of bikers and pilgrims follow the statue of the Madonna throughout the village, ending at the church. Then a weekend of festivities starts.
A superb introduction to the subject, before heading to the vineyards, further south.
We had an appointment at Su’entu estate, south of the island, where we met Salvatore Pilloni, the founder, and his daughter Roberta. A charming family property, which covers 50 hectares, 32 of which are planted with vines. “Su’entu” means “wind” in local dialect.
Because at the top of the vineyard wind blows continuously throughout the year, bringing a unique freshness to the grapes of the estate, in this hot region of the Mediterranean. In the evening, the humidity suddenly dropped on the property, where we spent the night. A coat was more than welcome.
Discovery of the autochthonous red varietal Bovale, a grape that has been forgotten because considered rustic. Personally, we loved it, with its aromas of black fruit, cedar and blackberry. “Before the Phylloxera crisis (late nineteenth century), Italy had more than a thousand different grape varieties.
Today, there are still hundreds”, Roberta explained to us. Adding : “it is fundamental to preserve our heritage, which is both our strength and our identity”.
Discovering the Cantina del Vesuvio, a 12-hectare property planted on the volcanic soils of the Vesuvius.
Probably the best way to discover the wines of the “Lacryma Christi” appellation, a D.O.C. mainly producing wines from the indigenous varieties Caprettone (white) and Piedirosso (red), on the slopes of the Vesuvius. “Wine has been produced here since ancient Roman times ; its first mention going back to the 5th century BC”, Maurizio Russo, the owner said.
Halfway between Naples and Pompeii, the Cantina del Vesuvio is a must see in the region. Maurizio’s family has been producing wine since 1948, four years after the last eruption of Vesuvius!
The gray dust soils that cover the vineyard are unique and bring to the wines of the domain a real typicity. Their blend of Piedirosso and Aglianico, a red wine with a strong character, was a perfect accompaniment during lunch time with home-made lasagna.
And if you want to continue the experience, Maurizio’s family offers cooking classes at home, around traditional Italian dishes that you will prepare together and then enjoy, with your family, friends or with your beloved, while drinking the wines of the estate.
A beautiful moment.
Halfway between Rome and Grosseto, the DOC Tarquinia is one of the most interesting viticultural areas of the Lazio region. A new one for us, in a country that has no less than 300 000 vineyards, two-thirds of which have a planted area of less than 2 hectares.
Visiting Muscari Tomajoli estate, a nice example of the dynamism of the Tarquinia DOC. This family winery of 2 hectares is located only a few kilometers from the Mediterranean sea. Accessing the vineyard with our camper was a challenge, as we had to drive for 1km of narrow and winding roads in the forest, before arriving on the property.
Planted in 2007 by Marco (the son) and Sergio (the father, who tragically passed away since), the estate produces wines built for gastronomy. Impressive. Five grape varieties make the vineyard’s reputation: Montepulciano, Petit verdot, Alicante bouschet, Barbera and Vermentino.
A nice discovery that we were happy to have been able to share with two friends, what a weekend! Generous donors during our participatory fundraising campaign last year, Philippe and Gaëlle dreamt of visiting the Italian vineyard aboard our motorhome. It’s done now! A very nice moment of sharing, gastronomy, petanque, laughter and friendship. That’s also the Wine Explorers adventure.
We had promised ourselves not to visit Tuscany during the project (a beautiful region but a bit too famous for our readers), unless we found a vineyard against the current of the appellation.
We did it. Welcome to Podere San Cristoforo estate. This biodynamic certified vineyard has 45 hectares in total. Fifteen are planted with vineyards, two with olive trees and twenty with cereals. Created in 1999, the estate is led by Lorenzo Zonin (owner and oenologist), Davide Elisei (director and agronomist) and Alessandro Dalle Carbonare (oenologist). The trio produces wines that are the opposite of other local wines.
The secret of this vineyard? An exceptional terroir. The constant presence of marine breezes that keep the grapes in a perfectly healthy state and mitigate the high summer temperatures, combined with soils of Aeolian sediments (stony soils rich in clay).
“A microclimate that gives a balsamic perception in wines”, Alessandro explained. Result : wines as precise and generous as they are fresh and complex. Pure happiness … Sangiovese, Petit Verdot (a dream terroir for this variety), Syrah, Vermentino and Trebbiano.
Cinque Terre, in the north of Italy (midway between Florence and Turin), is simply a work of art… A wild, lost and preserved place, where I would dream to come and stop by one day, to write a book or two.
A wine region as beautiful as it is fascinating, entirely shaped by the hand of man in the Middle Ages, planting vines on terraces. Forget about machines! Here, everything is done by hand. Only a few monorails were recently installed here and there, to transport the heavy equipment, as well as the grapes during the harvest. Or to carry a curious explorer on occasion!
Discovering the (micro) estate Azienda Agricola Andrea Pecunia, a vineyard of 0.5 hectares with 3,000 vines spread over 24 small terraces!…
The work of a titan, for a production of up to 1,800 bottles per year. Simply amazing. We loved Andrea Pecunia wines, 100% natural, with a special mention for its blend of Bosco and Albarolla. Respect to this viticulture of the extreme.
We wanted you to discover a fantastic winemaker (and friend) from Piedmont : Silvio Morando. A winemaker with a big heart, kneaded with talent, with a strong temperament, who does not have his tongue in his pocket and who likes to call himself “the anarchist”.
So many reasons why we love him so much! In addition to producing some of the best Barbera del Monferrato wines in the area, Silvio likes to play off the beaten path of Piedmont wines. For example, by blending a white grape (Cortese) and a red one (Syrah) to make a rosé. Or, by having many international red grapes in one of his cuvées (a heresy in Piedmont, where traditionally a wine comes from a single grape variety). I just love it.
Best of all, Silvio specializes in Grignolino del Monferrato, named after an appellation and an Italian red grape from Piedmont.
Characterized by aromas of small red berries, a nice acidity and sustained tannins, this grape variety produces delicious and very refreshing wines. We were in full harvest and clusters were beautiful. At lunchtime, Silvio served us a Grignolino del Monferrato at cold temperature. “That’s the way to drink this wine”, he explained. A pure delight with local antipasti, or a pepper pizza!
Thank you to Su’entu, Cantina del Vesuvio, Muscari Tomajoli, Podere San Cristoforo, Azienda Agricola Andrea Pecunia and Azienda Agricola SilvioMorando for their warm welcome. And a big thank you to Stephano and Imma Flores for this incredible moment in Sardinia.
(1) In 2015, Italy became the world’s leading producer of wine, ahead of France, with 5.09 billion liters (source: OIV, 2017).