Saturday, 8 August 2015

A Day in the Lazio Countryside

Our love of Cesanse wine goes back to 2010 when we were stranded in Rome thanks to the Icelandic volcano. Late afternoons were spent in our local bar, Vino Veritas, now sadly closed, where Andreas introduced us to this local wine.

Thanks to Gina & Casa Mia we are privileged to be able to spend time with a talented winemaker who understands the potential of this grape variety which dates back to the days of the Roman Empire.
Our day that will never be forgotten began with Gina and chauffer driven car picking us up at 8.30am for our journey that would take us an hour south east of the city.
The traffic leaving Rome was at a snail's pace but we barely noticed as we were so busy catching up with Gina. However, we did pause for breath once the city gave way to the rolling hills of Lazio.

Our destination was to the vineyard of winemaker Damiano Ciolli, whose family have been making wine for five generations. In the past quantity had triumphed over quality with the wine made from the Cesanese grape sold off in bulk. When Damiano took over the vines at the age of 24 he reversed this tradition and he now produces two Cesanese wines of superior quality.

Damiano's passion shines through the language barrier as he shows us around the vineyard and  explains the elements that come together to produce a vintage.

The vines, some of which are 64 years old, grow in red volcanic soil and thrive in a microclimate that sees the air cooled by breezes from the nearby coast and the grapes protected from extreme weather by the surrounding three mountain ranges.

Dotted amongst the vines are these pretty little flowers known as Silene
The grapes are harvested manually and imperfect specimens rejected.
We then move on to the Cantine where the grapes are fermented in stainless steel vats then aged in concrete or French oak barrels.
This is where we get to taste the two wines that are produced here, Silene & Cirsium, named after plants that grow in the vineyard, that we saw earlier.

I don't think we will ever taste wine in a more perfect setting.
If this wasn't enough we then drove a short distance in to the town of Olevano Romano to Ristorante Sora Maria e Arcangelo. This is the destination you dream of when longing for a lazy Lazio lunch.
The dining room is all dark wood and tradition with the requisite hill town views from the open windows.
To be honest I would have been content with this alone.....but then came the food.

A  'welcome' dish of Polpetta di melanzane -a sort of aubergine suppli with a very light touch and just a hint of smokiness in the aubergine.

Polpette di Allesso di Manzo alla Picchiapo Estiva.
These shredded beef meatballs were stuffed with  tomato salsa and served with pesto made with Pecorino Falisco from the Viterbo area of Lazio.

Il Fiore di Zucca Croccante farcito alla Ricotta di Bufala
Stuffed zucchini flowers delicately fried - the creaminess of the ricotta contrasted beautifully with the crisp batter.

Cannelloni della Sora Maria
The signature dish and with good reason. The thin, light pasta dough (made by Mamma, I'm assuming!) was filled with veal and baked with in a bittersweet San Marzano tomato sauce  then topped with a local mozzarella.

Le Fettucine Tirate al Mattarello
I think the translation means 'hand rolled'. This silky pasta was served with the freshest garden vegetables and a quenelle of buffalo ricotta.

La Parmigiana nel Coniglio
I had never eaten rabbit before but, boy, was this the place to try it. The meat was succulent and delicious and paired perfectly with the tomato confit & mozzarella cream

Brasato di Sottopaletta di Vitello al Vino Malvasia e Pepe Jamaica
Food envy reigns. I loved my rabbit dish but my goodness how luscious is this. Fortunately Gina was happy for us to have a taste, and yes, those vegetables were as tender and sweet as they look. The veal braised in wine was delicious too.

Parfait Ghiacciato al Pistacchi di Bronte e Canditi di Agrumi Artigianali in Crostata di Cioccolato Fondente
I'm not usually a pudding person ( shoot me) but this could convert me. We knew we were on to a winner when Gina whispered in awe ' Giovanni's take on cannoli'. As she has Sicilian parentage she knows what she is talking about. All I can say is that this made up in spades for missing out on the cannoli from Dess'Art (we had eaten too much did that happen?!)
The little biscuit underneath had a hint of salt which complemented the chocolate and fondant perfectly.
The wine, chosen by Gina, was a Cesanese (of course!) from Cantine Riccardi Reale
This cantine was founded by Piero Riccardi, who formally worked in Italian TV, and Lorella Reale, a sommelier. Lorella designed the label - it is so pretty.
The meal ended with espresso, biscotti and Amarone made in house.
Honestly this was one of our best meals ever.
Who knew this little hill town south of Rome could hide such treasures.
We didn't feel like paying guests on this tour but privileged friends let in on a secret, which is the ethos of Casa Mia Tours.
It works
You are the best


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