The image of monks making beer is not new or strange to most people, but nuns making wine? Well, tonight that’s what we drank – a white wine made by nuns. There’s a first time for everything, and this was my first wine made by cloistered, celibate women, and if these results are even close to typical, I need to locate more of them.
The convent and the vineyards from whence this wine emanates is located in the tiny village of Vitorchiano in the province of Viterbo about 60 miles north of Rome and hard by the border with the Region of Umbria. It may not come as a great surprise but this region is not one that is highly celebrated for its winemaking. Don’t get me wrong, there have been grapes growing in this area and wine being made from them for millennia, but let’s face it, the Colli Etruschi Viterbesi (the local appellation) doesn’t carry the reputation that Fiano di Avellino or Verdicchio di Matelica or Collio do. What’s more, this wine isn’t a Colli Etruschi Viterbesi wine, and it isn’t even a D.O.C. wine but rather an I.G.T.-designated wine that, at least in theory, is the least restrictive, “simplest” classification in the Italian viticultural system.
All that said, this wine is the perfect object lesson for not judging a book by its cover (or in this case a wine by its label), but rather by the dedication of the folks who work the vineyards and the cellars, and the final product that comes out from underneath the cork. If results determined classification exclusively, this wine would be a famous, single vineyard D.O.C.G. wine.
I.G.T. wine rules allow the producer far more flexibility in terms of grape varieties permitted, yields per area under vine, aging requirements, and so on, and more often than not, most I.G.T. wines fill the role of “simple table wine” rather than opting to take a sort of “high road” to skirt the restrictions of the local D.O.C. or D.O.C.G.s in favor of the production of a wine made with unique or proprietary techniques or mix of grape varieties. This wine is decidedly made in the latter model rather than the former. This wine is blend of 45% Trebbiano (not sure which sub-variety – there are quite a few, and their qualities vary quite widely) 35% Malvasia (the issue is similar to the Trebbiano – there are quite a few sub-types, some of which are full of character, others less so) and 20% Verdicchio rounds out the blend. The amount of Trebbiano used in this wine conforms to the Colli Etruschi Viterbesi D.O.C. in terms of percentage allowed, and though Malvasia is also a part of the C.E.V. appellation, the 35% utilized in this wine exceeds the amounts permissible in the D.O.C., and though I’m not sure, Verdicchio is strongly associated with Marche and Veneto not Lazio, and may also be verboten in the C.E.V. blend. Renegade nuns breaking the rules and re-calibrating expectations…
So to make a short story long, anyone who has had encounters with nuns knows that one messes with them at one’s own peril, and this caveat goes double for their winemaking prowess, or at least with this one in particular. This is a wine that deserves as much respect as the ladies that make it, and those that disagree deserve any knuckle raps with a metal ruler that the sisters or anyone else might choose to administer as a result.
As a bit of a departure from our usual pizza habits Jen and I we ordered up a white pie (no tomato, but with ricotta and mozzarella) with basil and broccoli. With the wine, it brought us great piece – eight of them actually (sorry).
Monastero Suore Cistercensi S.O. Trappiste “Coenobium” Lazio I.G.T. 2011
Medium-deep, coppery golden color. Quite profound and complex nose of fresh pineapple, apricot, roasted apples, lemon zest, honey, fresh aromatic herbs, dried ginger, yellow flowers and merengue. The palate has a chunky full body, a dense texture with a notable richness that is balanced by a fresh acidity and good grip and flavors of gooseberry, pear nectar, white currants, pinoli nut paste, iced tea, fresh fennel, and rosemary. Very long toasted bitter almond finish. A rustic but still very elegant wine. Impressive.