By Celia Strong
Well, this week’s wine has one of the very best wine stories ever. And, thank goodness, the story should help us remember the name. It will. It will.
We’re off to Italy, the west coast, midway between the top and the bottom, or to be more graphic, the front of the knee of the Italian boot. Here is where we find the region known as Latium or Lazio. Both of these names refer to the origins of Italian everything from this region. Latium is from the word “Latin,” and it is in this region that the city of Rome is located. Originally, Latium was just a small triangle of fertile, volcanic soil where a tribe of Latins lived. The original Latium was located on the bank, east and south, of the Tiber River. As the city of Rome expanded, mostly through conquests of its neighbors, Latium became larger until it was almost twice as big. The ancient language of Latium become Latin which in turn evolved into Italian.
Our wine is a white and is, legally, a blend of three grapes. The main one, which must be at least 65% of the blend, is Trebbiano. We have looked at this variety before. It is the second most widely planted grape in the world. In Italy, Trebbiano accounts for at least part of about one third of all their white wines. The history of Trebbiano goes back to Roman times, and, even then, its high acidity made it a desirable part of their wines.
The second grape in our wine is Malvasia. This is a white variety that originated probably in Greece and thrives around the Mediterranean. There are several versions of this grape, not quite clones really, and that makes its history a bit difficult. Some say the name Malvasia is derived from Monemvasia, a Venetian fortress on the coast of Laconia, known in Italian as Malvasia. The Italians did so much trading in and out of this port that wine shops in Venice were called “malvasie.” A competing story says the name came from the district of Malevizi, near the city of Heraklion (Hercules’ hometown?). In any case, most of the versions of this grape are related to Malvasia Bianca. Throughout Italy, Malvaisa is blended with Trebbiano to add flavor and texture to the wines. For our wine, this week, Malvasia is 20% of the blend.
The third variety in our wine is allowed to be no more than 20% of the blend. This is a grape that you may never hear mentioned again — Roscetto. It is an ancient variety that really is very rare. Roscetto is a low yield grape, not very many in a bunch and not many bunches on a vine, and so unknown except in the Latium region, that it’s hard to find information on it. Reportedly, it has high sugar and high acid levels.
But, enough of the grapes. On to our wine and its story! Officially, our wine’s name is Est! Est!! Est!!! Di Montefiascone. The shortened version is just Est! Est!! Est!!! (Easy to say but a real pain to type!) Montefiascone is a sub-region centered around the commune of the same name in the province of Viterbo in Latium. There are about 1,000 acres of vines that are used to make this wine. Italian DOC wine status was given to this wine in 1966, and it is this DOC law that dictates the blend. (Not all DOC Est! Est!! Est!! wines include Roscetto in their blend, but ours does.) The finished wine must have a minimum alcohol level of 11%.
The story, finally, behind the name of Est! Est!! Est!!! di Montefiascone has been around for centuries. Unfortunately, it has been changed and adjusted and modified many times, and I suppose at this point we have to assume it’s not all true. The basic story goes that a Catholic bishop was traveling to Rome. Some versions say it was a German bishop going to see the Pope, some say it was a Flemish bishop going for the coronation of Henry V as Holy Roman Emperor. But, as he travelled, the bishop sent a servant on the road ahead of him to check out the wines at roadside inns he was going to pass. If the wine was good enough, the servant was told to write “Est” (Latin for “It is.”) on the inn’s wall, door or fence. That way the Bishop, who liked his wine, would know where he could have a pleasant dinner each night. Legend has it that the servant thought the wine in Montefiascone was so good that he wrote Est! Est!! Est!! on the door of the inn there. One version of the story even has the bishop not traveling any further than Montefiascone, never completing his trip because he liked the local wine so much and spent the rest of his life in that town.
As much fun as the name of this wine is, it has always been hard to find. A thousand acres is not that much land to make all that much wine. But, lucky us, one is available for us this summer. It’s made by Falesco, a winery founded in 1979 by two brothers, Riccardo and Renzo Cotarella. Their goal was to focus on and promote the uniqueness and tradition of native varieties and their versatility with international varieties. Located near Orvieto in the region off Umbria, they’re just across the border from Latium. They do, though, maintain a cellar in Latium for the production of their Est! Est!! Est!!!
This wine is straw colored with fresh acidity and good structure. Its nose has hints of flowers and fruits, all light and subtle and delicate. It is a great summer wine for easy sipping and light meals. My personal suspicion is that the bishop must have been traveling in hot weather, or at least his servant was hot on the day he got to Montefiascone. And that is my donation to the Est! Est!! Est!!! story. This wine is truly lovely in warm weather! Really, it is! And what fun to sip some and think up your own pieces and parts to the legend. Enjoy.