A recent Friday morning in August my friends Gina, Eleonora, and our 8 year old mascot (and budding photographer) Elliot set out early of hot and dusty Rome headed for the Roman wine country nearby. Olevano Romano is an hour South-east of the city center and an historic location known for its Cesanese wine. Produced for centuries on the rolling hills of Lazio, Cesanese is a robust red that in its variations can be spicy, smooth, fruity and rustic.Damiano Ciolli, the vintner who invited us for a tasting that day, is a fourth generation winemaker and his grapes reflect both his father, grandfather and great-grandfather but also himself. A handsome 30-something, he has planted younger vines of Cesanese Comune, which are slightly different from the older Cesanese di Affile, but also is experimenting with white Ottonese grapes of the Bellone variety. After visiting the small 15-acre vineyard, we went into the ‘cave’ to taste some of his most recent labels (from 2010 to 2013). Interestingly for an amateur like me, the wines were fermenting in oak barrels from Bordeaux and Burgundy as well as stainless steel and cement. The cement surprised me but they were surprisingly beautiful and Damiano assured me they work very well since they let in oxygen (he added: ‘wine is a living creature’).After the tasting and a quick look at his amazing tractor, which Elliot was really impressed with, we chatted about Damiano’s mother who was in the kitchen preparing lunch. Promising to come back and cook with his ‘mamma’, we headed off to the center of town to feast on one of the best meals I’ve had (and that’s saying a lot!).‘Sora Maria e Arcangelo’ is a restaurant that is taking local, seasonal ingredients and re-inventing typical Lazio cuisine. Of course the famed Cesanese wines feature prominently and we had a rustic natural one from Piglio called Vicinale from the La Visciola vineyard.
As far as food, there were the famous ‘Suppli’, or rice balls, filled with wild porcini mushrooms and saffron, the seasonal ‘fiori di zucca’, or zucchini blossoms, stuffed with cheese and anchovies plus an eggplant parmesan that was beautifully served in a small Le Creuset pot. The first course was cannelloni stuffed with veal and dressed with san marzano tomatoes and mozzarella—sublime! The entrees were also late summer: rabbit filled with eggplant on an eggplant puree and roast chicken (the most delicious, crispiest skin I’ve ever tasted) with wild rosemary and peppers.As if all that was not enough, there was dessert: a wild blackberry and lemon tart, or tartella, with lemon gelato and a ‘tiramisu’ that only had mascarpone in common with the classic one. In fact it was like a lemon cream pudding with peaches and wild strawberries (we called it a ‘tiramisopra’). Deelish!
We ended with an amaro made of pomegranates and then chatted with chef Giovanni Milana and his mother in the kitchen before heading back to the city well sated and happy. There’s nothing like spending a day with friends eating and drinking well.