The region around Lake Bolsena in northern Lazio unquestionably qualifies as one of the lesser known folds in Italy’s landscape, viticultural or otherwise. This area is rich in Etruscan history and archeology, and the lake itself is actually a volcanic crater lake. Volcanic soil and wine vines are a famously felicitous match, and large lakes like Bolsena always provide a moderating micro-climate for the vineyards planted on their shores, which makes a place like Bolsena a truly special place to make wine.
Along with the more “conventional” and highly celebrated central Italian red grape varieties like Sangiovese and Montepulciano, the special place that is the Lago di Bolsena region is also one of the few homes (with the island of Elba being another) of the fantastically fragrant Aleatico (ah-leh-AH-tee-ko) grape. Aleatico seems very likely to be an ancient and now red-skinned mutation of the typically white Muscat grape, and like Muscat itself, many if not most of the wines derived from Aleatico’s effusively-scented musts are vinified into dessert wines. A fair number of dry wines in the region sparingly blend in just a squirt of Aleatico with the aforementioned local red grapes to give the final wine a subtle, ethereal “lift”. Just a precious few producers however make fully dry wines from 100% Aleatico like this one.
The sweetly pungent nose, round, soft, and smooth structure, and often elevated alcohol levels of dry Aleatico (this one’s 14%, but not hot in the slightest), make it a great match with punchy or boldly flavored dishes, especially poultry, so I served this particular example with the well known and regional pasta dish Bucatini all’ Amatriciana and the Italian (American) classic of Pollo alla Marsala, with a side of baby peas dressed with spoonful of really good, buttery sweet olive oil.
Azienda Agricola Occhipinti “Alea Viva” Lazio Rosso IGT 2009
Slightly browned, just translucent garnet color. Arrestingly perfumed nose of lilies, pink roses, super-ripe strawberries, fresh coconut milk, juniper, dill, and touch of wet clay. The wine is medium weight, with a very soft and smooth texture balanced by a discreet acidity and vivacious flavors of raspberry, sweet spiced tea, cherry, prune nectar, cracked black pepper, and red currant jam. The finish is warm and clean with a subtly bitter,complex minerality.