An Italian producer reached out to me on a networking platform that I have previously regarded as more of an irritant than a benefit. I am pleased that he did as a discussion led to me having a chance to taste his fascinating wines, though it may take more than one such instance for me to change my mind about the platform!
Without him reaching out, I doubt I would have ever come across the wines from his Lazio estate, which is based in the Frusinate area about 50 miles south-east of Rome. Together with his brother, Daniele Proietti founded Abbia Nòva in 2018, an estate now termed one of Lazio’s hottest new producers. The origins of the estate go much further back as they are based on the former vineyards and cellar of Costa Graia, a project they shared with Gabriele Graia until the three parted ways.
The red grape variety at the heart of the Abbia Nòva wines is Cesanese. You, like I, could be forgiven for not being aware of the variety as it only accounts for a modest area under vine, and when Jancis Robinson published her ‘Vines, Grapes and Wines’ in the mid-1980s, my go-to resource for the origins and characteristics of obscure grape varieties, it barely received a mention. However, this is not a new grape variety; it is a rediscovered variety. It is worth remembering that the Lazio region surrounds Rome and historically was important in meeting the thirst of the city. Most of the wines produced in Lazio are white, principally from Malvasia and Trebbiano – reds account for around a quarter of the vineyard area planted. Abbia Nòva have around seven hectares of vineyard in both the Cesanese del Piglio and Cesanese d’Affile zones. If all the holdings of Cesanese in these areas were added up, it still might not exceed one hundred and fifty hectares…and that includes some new plantings.
There are a few different clones of Cesanese, with the one named after the Affile zone, mentioned above, being the most highly regarded. Abbia Nòva’s wines come from the Piglio district or DOCG, which lies to the east of Rome at the foot of the Apennine mountains. Wines from this DOCG must include 90% of Cesanese to qualify. Other varieties that may constitute the remaining ten percent include Passerina, a white variety that produces floral, fruity yet elegant wines here and further north in the Marche region.
So, what of the wine? When I first opened the 2019 Cesanese del Piglio, Senza Vandalismi from Abbia Nòva, I wasn’t at all sure what to expect. The name Abbia Nòva is taken from an ancient Roman road that links Piglio to Abruzzo. Then you have a bizarre hashtag on the label ‘#Senza Vandalsimi’, which I am told relates to a speech given by a local politician when discussing how vandalism affects a community. I couldn’t connect it all. Once I tasted, I could see the relevance of the phrase – this is a wine made in the purest form with little use of technical winemaking and minimal use of sulphur dioxide. This alone didn’t remove my scepticism as I have tasted a good number of minimal interventionist wines that have been riddled with winemaking faults that obscure the fruit, the very thing that they are seeking to express in its clearest form. It takes skill to succeed with this kind of approach, but once I tasted Daniele’s 2019, it was clear he had succeeded. This sort of wine has immense appeal – floral, violet-like aromas, juicy, fresh small red fruit, cherry, berry and pomegranate and then a hint of spice and a complexity that is unexpected in a wine of this level. That juicy, seamless, pure impression is a joy to taste and the acidity is sufficient to keep it fresh without going too far. I feel sure this would appeal to many clients – you need to be brave enough to explore the unfamiliar, but isn’t that part of the enjoyment of wine? Please see my full note below.
It doesn’t just take skill to produce a wine like this, it takes a lot of dedication and determination to look to restore the reputation and encourage further planting of what is termed Lazio’s signature variety. Thankfully, Costa Graia’s, and now Abbia Nòva’s efforts are doing just that.
Please note we will be shipping this wine in early March and it will be great for drinking this spring.
Please let us know of you interest.
All the best,