As a natural wine importer, I always try to search for the rising stars of a region. The best producers, like Bea, Radikon, Foradori etc…. are already imported but it makes me extremely happy when I find a young talented producer whose wines can potentially become a benchmark, a cult, something that my buyers can’t get enough of.
Mario Macciocca (below) is my rising star in Lazio, more specifically in Piglio in the province of Frosinone, an area called Ciociaria. I have just visited him and I was extremely impressed. He studied Physics and Art but felt at home in the country.. “I don’t like people very much…I am at ease when in nature and when making wine” he says.
His vineyards are beautiful, completely surrounded by nature, far from factories, cities, and roads. The volcanic minerally soils are red and vines are old and can easily age up to 60 or 70 years old.Mario inherited them from his grandfather and has also just purchased more land and planted new vines.Mario mainly cultivates Passerina del Frusinate, Malvasia Puntinata, Cesanese, and Nostrano but in the vineyards he has some other crazy grapes like Uva Barese, Uva Turca, and some other funky names I can’t even remember.After taking all sorts of photos and trying to learn as much as possible in a short period of time, we left the vineyards and went to his splendid small Cantina that is 600 years old and all built out of stone right in town.
The ’14 wines were stunning.2014 was generally a bad vintage in Italy because it rained for basically the whole summer. Peronospera or rot kicked in and most producers lost everything. Mario made very little wine. Less than half of his normal production (around 5000 btls) but the quality remains very high.I have tasted the unsulphured 2014 Monocromo (Passerina+Malvasia) a couple of months ago and it was already delicious so we didn’t bother opening it. Mario just made a new white, the Terra Bianco 2014 (Passerina+Malvasia Puntinata) elevated in Acacia. An “orange” wine since it macerates for a long time but the color is more similar to gold than orange. A bit of V.A. but super fun full of ripe mineral lemony notes, good body, and a good amount of acid. A super solid wine that I can’t wait to bring to SF. We tasted my favorite. The Terra Rosso 2014, a blend of Cesanese and Nostrano made in old barriques and steel. Cesanese gives power and fruit while Nostrano adds freshness and earth. It’s the perfect wine where you can do whatever you want with it. It will go well with pretty much everything. Last was the Cesanese Civitella 2014. This is the quintessential Cesanese full of ripe fruit and power with a discreet amount of acid. With time, it turns into a more austere, complex wine…..we tasted the 2013 (I still preferred the ’14). With a lot more time (we opened a 1989), it can be surprisingly fresh and elegant.
Mario doesn’t mess around and besides 4 or 5 treatment a year of Sulphur and Copper and a very tiny amount of Sulphur in most wines, everything else is done in a non-interventionist way (native yeast, no filtration, no manipulation). What I like about his wines is that the flavors are pure and honest. They are easy to drink and alcohol level is in check. That mineral red volcanic soil is in the glass. “I just make wine like my grandfather used to do……there is no other way for me….I don’t do much……Nature does everything” he explains, “I realized that I could be part of the Natural Wine Movement and I did”, and he finishes “I hope that Natural Wine won’t just be a trend in Italy and that more and more winery realize of the importance of making wine this way”.
After the tasting we went to a local Trattoria right in the middle of the picturesque Medieval town of Piglio. Mario’s favorite place was closed, so we had downgrade. Food was still solid: an appetizer of local cheese and verdure, “sagna” (similar to scialatielli pasta) with tartufo nero e guanciale, grilled lamb, and potatoes and chicory. All washed down with the 1989 Cesanese we brought.After pre-ordering most of his inventory for SF, I left happy. Mario’s wines will probably be a big hit.