On Wednesday morning, we visited the market at Campo di Fiori. Since 1869, this piazza has been home to a daily fish and vegetable market. We arrived early as thevendors were still setting up their booths. At first glance, with the mishmash of clothes, blankets, handbags, and trinkets that were on display, you might think this was a tourist bazaar. However, the central booths of the market were lined with vibrant displays of seasonal vegetables that popped with all the colors of the rainbow. There were several vendors offering dried pasta in all shapes and sizes. There was a deli and fish market with storefronts on the piazza. I would guess that a bakery and butcher shop were nearby. Everything needed to create a complete meal with fresh seasonal ingredients was available within walking distance.
My greatest find at the market was crushed ice that was used to chill some perishable foods. I bought a bottled Coca Cola that I poured over a cup filled with crushed ice. After more than a week of lukewarm beverages, an icy-cold Coke was Heaven!
After snacking on some Roman pizza, we departed for Frascati. Before leaving Rome we made a final stop at a vantage point that overlooks the entire city. The panoramic view with history as far as the eye can see in every direction, was breathtaking.
I was looking forward to Frascati. I was blown away during my first meeting with Mauro Merz in Houston when we tasted “library samples” of Fontana Candida Frascati. Check out my post regarding this encounter. Visiting the estate, the first thing I noticed, is how close the vineyards are to Rome. I am sure we didn’t drive more than 20 minutes. It is easy to understand how these vineyards would be threatened by the expansion of Rome. Mauro is a self-appointed champion of Frascati and his wines make a strong case for the preservation of the Frascati vineyards.
After we toured the vineyards and the barrel room, Mauro led us to his caves that were carved out of the tufa soil. The walls were structurally firm, but you could easily chip pieces of soil off with your hands. The caves were filled with bottles of Frascati from multiple vintages. Fontana Candida’s Luna Mater Frascati Superiore is aged in the bottle for a year before release. Mauro dusted off a bottle filled with a golden liquid. The label had long since disintegrated. Turns out it was one of 8 remaining bottles of a 1997 Malvasia. He also pulled a 1998 Santa Teresa Frascati. He wanted to prove a point to us.
After come very cool photo ops in the caves, we made our way upstairs to the tasting room. This tasting room was unlike any we had visited so far. We passed through a hallway that was flanked by a “laboratory”, complete with beakers, test tubes, and analytical equipment. The tasting was set up at a square table covered in white melamine that seated two on each side. At the middle of each side, we found a hidden drawer that would pop out to reveal an old-school dental spit basin complete with swirling rinse – I’m not joking. With all the white surfaces and cabinetry, we are all thinking – Dental Office!!
I was first drawn into Mauro Merz’s world of Frascati when I was invited to a “Library Tasting” of Frascati. It is no surprise that the first portion of our tasting was a vertical from 2007-2012. The point of this tasting lineup was the same as in Houston. Mauro wants to show that his wines age, gracefully. Of the wines in the vertical, the 2007 was probably everyone’s favorite. But, all were pretty darn good. We finished with the 1997 Santa Teresa and a 1996 Malvasia. Each of the wines had taken on honeyed and reductive notes, a definite evolutionary jump from the younger wines we had tasted. The tasting proved once again, the Frascati of Fontana Candida do indeed age gracefully.
The Luna Mater Frascati Superiore is crafted with a meticulous attention to detail. After bottling, the wine is aged for a year in the cellar prior to release. My encounters with Mauro Merz have proven that the wine will develop beautifully over a period of a decade or more. Frascati is also an extremely versatile food wine. Like a chameleon, the character of the wine changes depending on the dish, often expressing savory notes that are surprising. At around $20, Luna Mater is a world-class wine that you can have for a song.
While we had many great meals, lunch with Mauro remains one of the most memorable meals of the trip. Our lunch was at Taverna dello Spuntino in Grottaferrata, just south of Frascati. The building that housed the restaurant was originally a winery and had plenty of character. Peppers, fiascos (the Chianti bottles wrapped with straw), strings of garlic, whole slabs of prosciutto, shelves with old wine bottles, pots, pans, and dishes were hanging everywhere on the walls and from the ceiling. It was a sight to see. The room oozed with seductive aromas of resinous smoke and cooking spices. There was long table with an amazing spread of antipasti. We were seated and passed a bottles of 2007 and 2011 Luna Mater to fill our glassed as the waiters began to bring a seemingly endless stream of greens, vegetables, cheeses, cured meats, baby artichokes, and eggplant prepared a dozen different ways. The waiters insisted that we try “everything-ah”. The traditional Italian “meal before the meal” had begun. This would be an epic dining experience.
After a generous sampling of antipasti, most of us would have been happy to be on our way to a long nap. But the waiters cleared the plates and brought the first pasta course, a simple, but delicious linguini with porcini mushroom. They followed with the most intensely flavored pasta amatriciana I have ever tasted. True to form, both the 2007 and 2011 Luna Mater paired with everything we put in our mouths.
We were stuffed and begging for mercy when Mauro pulled a cork on a Sangiovese Merlot blend, Kron. The wine was rich and balanced, with a forward style. I wasn’t expecting a red from Mauro, but I was pleasantly surprised. The Kron accompanied “lollipop” lamb chops, that were intended to be held by the bone and eaten….well, like a lollipop. It is nearly impossible to find information on Kron – It is not even mentioned on the Fontana Candida website.
Did I say we were stuffed? After the lamb, none of us could possibly eat dessert. But we were informed that wild forest strawberries were in season and they were delicioso!!!. We agreed just to be polite. I thought I would have a bite and be done. This would not be the case.
The strawberries were about the size of jellybeans, and they tasted AMAZING!!! My serving was topped with a gelato flavored with orange liqueur that, though it seemed impossible after the first bite, took everything to another level – A FANTASTIC compliment to the dish. This was by far the best dessert I had tasted on the trip. Much to my misery, I finished every strawberry on the plate.
We air-kissed, hugged and boarded the sprinter for an amazing drive through the Appenines on our way to Abruzzo. I slept most of the way but woke up in time to see some fantastic castles and complete mountainsides covered with sunflowers. The scenery was amazing!!
Its been a while since my last post. Family, work, and study for the tasting portion of the CWE Exam have taken up most of my free time. Thanks to my travel mates for providing all of the great photos. I didn’t mention that my camera/smartphone stopped working during the trip. So, I have relied upon others to provide photos to document the trip. This adds a lot of time to the editing process.
l have one more short post detailing the final day in Italy, with a report on Abruzzo and Sagrantino and Montefalco. Stay Tuned….