When most of us think of Frascati, the image is one of a refreshing wine wine meant for summer sipping or pairing with a light salad; we certainly don’t think about aging the wine too long or even consider this a product with great complexity and subtlety. Yet thankfully there are a few vintners that see beyond the marketing limitations of Frascati as a simple wine and realize its true potential. One of those individuals is Mauro Merz, winemaker at Fontana Candida.
Merz, who had studied enology at the Istituto San Michele in Alto Adige, came to Fontana Candida in 2001 after producing sparkling wines at a firm in Trentino. He sought to make special bottlings of Frascati at this famous winery located very close to Rome, as he was convinced that Frascati could be something more than just a commercial product.
Fontana Candida, for those not familiar, is a huge winery, producing more than six million bottles per year. Clearly, the regular bottling of Frascati was and is always going to be the engine that drives the train for this firm, but Merz knew that he had the financial support of Gruppo Italiano Vini (GIV) on his side; this company owns wineries in many regions of Italy and can fund special projects such as the one Merz had in mind.
Merz realized that if he were to produce a more complex Frascati, he would have to work with better source material. “You can take excellent grapes and make bad wine,” he states. “But you can’t take bad grapes and make excellent wine.” This meant that he would implement a greater percentage of the Lazio clone of Malvasia (Malvasia del Lazio) in his wine as compared to the Malvasia di Candia strain, used to produce most versions of Frascati. He believes that the latter is a workhorse and produces clean wines, but ones that lack depth and interest. Malvasia del Lazio, on the other hand, may not deliver as large a yield and may be more difficult to grow, but this clone could clearly produce much more complex and age-worthy wines.
Merz also decided to use some late-harvest grapes in this new wine, which he called Luna Mater. Combine that with whole berry fermentation and drying the grapes for 20-30 days and you have a Frascati that is a revelation. I recently attended a vertical tasting of four years of Luna Mater, beginning with the initial release of 2007 right up to the 2010. The wines were served at lunch and incidentally were served at room temperature, with absolutely no chill. This would be the ultimate test for any white wine.
Vineyards at Frascati (Photo courtesy of Fontana Candida)
Going through the various offerings, you realize that this is a Frascati that clearly needs time, as the 2010, while a beautifully made wine with aromas of yellow peach and yellow flowers, is relatively straightforward at this moment. But go back to the 2008 and you are rewarded with a striking wine with pineapple, peony and honey aromas, beautiful complexity and excellent persistence. This is a wine of zestiness and a rich mid-palate, a wine of notable structure and balance. This was my favorite of the four wines, one that should drink well for another 3-5 years. Imagine that, a Frascati that will be in fine shape at eight to ten years of age!
So for anyone who thinks that Frascati can never amount to much, we have Mauro Merz to thank for producing Luna Mater, a wine that shows the world what this famous white from Lazio can deliver. “I take a purist approach,” says Merz. “I try to have the wine tell the story of where it comes from.”