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What our expert thought of Fontana Candida, Frascati Superiore, Vigneto Santa Teresa




about this wine About this wine
 
At Decanting Club we love rediscovering wines that were once famous but then dropped out of fashion: Muscadet, Dão, Mosel, Vinho Verde.  But Frascati was a real challenge. Its fame rests on the wines it produced up until the Sixties, and it fell out of fashion for the best of reasons: the wines were no longer any good.  So what went wrong for Frascati and why hasn’t it made a comeback?  And could we find one that would justify its once-proud reputation?
 
Frascati is the best-known white of central Italy’s west coast Lazio region.  It’s named after the town of Frascati just to the southeast of Rome, and the vineyards occupy rolling volcanic hills so close to the city that many of them have been swallowed up by suburbs.  The rock is soft and porous tuff - compacted volcanic ash - and much of ancient Rome was built with it.  Its free-draining nature and high mineral content makes excellent soil for vines, and its softness allowed the construction of deep cool cellars to make and mature wine.  Proximity to wealthy Rome provided a ready market for quality wines.
 
Italy’s economy was shattered by the Second World War, leaving a market for quantity but not for quality.  Individual producers in Frascati were replaced by large cooperatives and official agricultural policy encouraged them to produce as much as possible.  The dreaded vine pest phylloxera didn’t reach Frascati until just before the war, and the wholesale replanting it necessitated allowed characterful local varieties to be replaced by the high-yielding Trebbiano Toscano, perhaps the least distinguished white variety in existence.
 
DOC rules for Frascati, introduced in the Sixties, legitimised the use of Trebbiano and the enormous yields that went with it (up to 14 tonnes/hectare are allowed) while simultaneously expanding the boundaries of the region to include flatter, inferior land.  Frascati traded on its dwindling reputation and memorable name until it became a byword for plonk.  DOCG rules for Frascati Superiore, introduced in 2011, tried to tackle the problem by reducing permitted yields to a still excessive 11 tonnes/hectare and raising minimum alcohol levels from 11.5% to 12%.
 
It remains to be seen if this once-great wine will make a comeback.  Only two or three Frascati producers are recognised as being really good, and only one of those is exported - Fontana Candida.  Their unusual acacia wood-aged top wine is not available in the UK, but this is their next-best and rather more typical of Frascati… or at least Frascati when it was still good.
 
Old-school Frascati was made mainly from Malvasia del Lazio and Malvasia di Candia, supported by Greco and Bombino.  So is this, but with the now-ubiquitous Trebbiano replacing Bombino in the blend, which comprises 50% Malvasia di Candia, 30% Malvasia del Lazio and 10% each of Greco and Trebbiano.
 
It comes from the Santa Teresa vineyard, planted on south-facing hillsides at an altitude of 200m to 300m in the best part of the region.  The varieties were picked separately at optimum ripeness: first the Malvasia, then the Greco and finally the Trebbiano.  A canny move there: Greco is actually later-ripening than Trebbiano, but late-picking Trebbiano is the only way to get any flavour out of it and it will always retain its trademark acidity no matter how ripe it gets.
 
The Malvasia underwent cold maceration for 12 hours before fermentation, to extract aromas and flavours from the skins.  Fermentation was carried out at 15°C to 16°C, which is warm by modern standards.  Most Frascati these days is cold-fermented off the skins, producing pale, short-lived wines whose ester-y flavours are more a product of the tank than the grapes.  After blending, the wine was aged in temperature-controlled steel vats before being bottled in the May following the vintage.
 
the tasting The Tasting
 
That skin contact shows up in the colour, which is a lovely pale-ish gold.  Industrial Frascati would be much paler, with more of a green tinge.
 
The nose is delicate and floral, yet there is depth to it.  It smells of camomile flowers, yellow apples and lemon peel, with a distinct herbal whiff of sage.
 
It tastes more intense than it smells, with mouthfilling peachy flavours and soft yet fresh acidity.  Although the flavours aren’t pungent, there’s a sense of weight and concentration that’s especially apparent as it warms in the mouth.
 
Almonds show up on the mouthcoating and minerally finish, which is satisfyingly long.
 
Assessment
 
That floral nose and weighty palate remind me of a white Châteauneuf-du-Pape… which in turn reminds me of the last wine I said that about: the wonderful Kozlovic Santa Lucia we featured back in May.  This Santa Teresa Frascati could be Santa Lucia’s little sister: less intense but consequently more versatile.  I wasn’t expecting such a similarity between different members of the Malvasia family, but the resemblance is remarkable.
 
Appropriately for a wine made the old-fashioned way, this shows delightfully old-fashioned understatement.  That delicate nose has no cool-ferment esters or sharp aromatics to draw attention to itself and the broad palate doesn’t shout out with pungent flavours or razorblade acidity, yet the wine has a balance and persistence that leaves the palate refreshed and satisfied at the same time.
 
That persistence means I don’t need to go back straight away for another mouthful to find out what it tasted like.  This is a wine you’ll drink more slowly and take more pleasure from, almost without realising it.


Tasting notes

Appearance
clear pale gold
Nose

Intensity medium-

Aromas floral (camomile), yellow fruit (apple), citrus (lemon peel), herbal(sage)

Development developing
Palate

Sweetness dry

Acidity medium

Body full

Intensity medium+

Flavours peach
Finish

Length long

Flavours as palate, mouthcoating & mineral, with almonds
Other notes
Understated flavours and nose, but concentrated & satisfying. Unoaked.


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