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A new life for an ancient grape

There is certainly no shortage of grape varietals in Italy. The Italian Ministry of Agriculture has “authorized” more than 350 grapes, and there are more than 500 additional documented varieties in circulation as well.

Although vines were cultivated from the wild Vitis vinifera grape for millennia, it wasn’t until the Greek colonization of the Italian peninsula that wine-making flourished. Viticulture was introduced into Sicily and southern Italy by the Greeks, who brought the grapes from their lands and from remote places like Persia and the Middle East.

Cesanese is one of those old varietals planted in the Italian soil for a truly long time. Legend says that the local wine of Imperial Rome was made from this grape. The truth is that the Lazio region, especially the areas of Piglio and Olevane Romano, have been growing grapes and producing wine since 300 BCE, and there is evidence of the presence of Cesanese in the area since the 1400s.

Lazio, as a wine-producing region, has always been overshadowed by Tuscany and Piemonte; especially in the past 50 years it has been seen as a supplier of inexpensive wines like Frascati, with high yields and low quality. But there is a dedicated group of vignerons committed to changing that perception by producing wonderful reds, age-worthy and full of character, using the native Cesanese grape. The wines from Cesanese are beautiful expressions of their terroir, showing balanced tannins, acidity, and the touch of “amaro” so particular to Italian wines. They are the perfect companion for spaghetti carbonara, lamb stews, offal, and most dishes of the Roman cucina povera (peasant cooking).

“Among the rare red wines of Lazio, Cesanese is the most interesting,” says Rome-based wine historian Andrea Gabbrielli. “Today, the market wants wines with identity and personality, and even though Cesanese is an antique variety, it represents an exciting new trend.”

At Eli’s List:

Vino Rosso Maria Ernesta Berruti $25

Natural Cesanese from a top producer in Piglio

Cesanese Olevane Romano Superiore “Silenum” Damiano Ciolle 2013 $30

Cesanese Olevane Romamo Riserva “Sircium” Damiano Ciolle 2012 $50