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What our expert thought of Castello di Torre in Pietra, Elephas Rosso




about this wine About this wine
 
This red is from Lazio, the Italian province that contains Rome.  It’s oddly lacking in famous wines.  Tuscany, just to the north, has Chianti and Brunello and lots of others, while Abruzzo to the east is famed for its Montepulciano, and further south down the coast, Campania is home to the red Taurasi and white Greco di Tufo.  Most of these big names are reds but Lazio mainly produces whites, with Frascati the best-known.
 
We featured a Frascati a couple of months ago.  It comes from hills just to Rome’s southeast, so close that the vineyards are at risk of being swallowed up by suburbs.  This red comes from hillside vineyards almost as close to the city but on the opposite side, in the commune of Fiumicino overlooking Rome’s airport.
 
Just like the Colli Albani that are home to Frascati, these hills are made of volcanic tuff providing excellent conditions for vines, yet strangely they’re not part of a well-known appellation.  The little-known local DOC Tarquinia is mostly used for semi-sweet or sparkling whites so, although this red is made from the correct grapes to qualify as DOC, the producers have chosen to label it under the ‘lesser’ but better-known IGT Lazio.
 
This area was once home to the Etruscan civilisation that preceded the ancient Romans, inspiring much of their culture including their alphabet.  Today it is best known for its superb Etruscan tombs, dug into the same soft volcanic tuff that nurtures the vines and provides easily-dug cellars in which to make and mature the wine.
 
Tuff is compacted volcanic ash, and it often contains fossils of animals caught in the eruptions and buried under the choking ash that killed them.  While excavating foundations in 1938 for an extension to the historic Castello di Torre in Pietra winery, workmen uncovered the fossilized remains of some prehistoric elephants (Elephas antiquus) that had perished in this way.  This wine, Elephas Rosso, is made in that cellar and named after those extinct elephants.
 
All this winery’s vineyards are certified organic, which is unusual for this coastal region that does see significant rainfall.  The volcanic subsoil offers excellent drainage, however, and the sea breezes help to dry the south- and southwest-facing vineyards.  Although the subsoil is volcanic, the topsoils are alluvial and filled with chalky marine deposits.  Where the chalk is mixed with sand they plant white varieties; where clay dominates they plant black grapes.
 
Contrary to what we said on the postcard, this wine is a blend of Montepulciano and Sangiovese only.  There was Merlot in the previous two vintages, but in 2015 the estate began to bottle the Merlot separately.  In still older vintages the third variety in the blend was not Merlot but Cesanese, a local variety unique to Lazio.  A red called Roma Rosso has absorbed all of the estate’s Cesanese since its first vintage in 2013, but more Cesanese has just been planted with a view to reintroducing it into the Elephas Rosso in the future.
 
the tasting The Tasting
 
This is a really youthful colour, as befits a 2015.  The depth isn’t much more than medium, but the colour itself is a vivid purple-red.  That purple is characteristic of young reds, especially ones from the Montepulciano grape.
 
The medium intensity nose features sour cherries and a variety of dried herbs: bayleaf, tea leaves and thyme.  There’s also a intriguing note of hazelnuts, despite this wine being unoaked.
 
Dry and a bit less than medium-bodied, with noticeably mouthwatering acidity, this has plenty of sour cherry and red plum fruit with a touch of something medicinal in the background.  It’s simple but appealing, and very Italian.
 
Some subtle tannins add structure to the medium length, nutty finish.
 
Assessment
 
There’s no mistaking the nationality of this one!  It’s as Italian as Vespa scooters and pasta like Mama used to make.  It has sour cherries (surely the Italian red wine flavour, regardless of grape variety), lots of herbs, crisp, food-friendly acidity and that lightness of touch that you just don’t get in the New World where more is always thought to be better.
 
It’s not just a simple quaffer, though.  Those hazelnut notes on the nose and the finish, and that medicinal touch in the mid-palate, add some complexity without sacrificing any of this wine’s food-friendly directness.  I could drink this every day – it would make a great house red.


Tasting notes

Appearance
clear medium(-) purple-red, very youthful
Nose

Intensity medium

Aromas sour cherries, dried herbs (bay, tea leaf, thyme), hazelnuts

Development youthful
Palate

Sweetness dry

Acidity medium+

Body medium-

Tannins light+

Intensity medium

Flavours red fruits (sour cherry, plum), medicinal hint
Finish

Length medium

Flavours as palate, nutty
Other notes
Unoaked


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