Colli di Catone. Italy’s Hidden Great White Wine
Italy’s list of transcendent white wines is short, compelling and idiosyncratic. It begins with three growers famed for their obsessive commitment to the indigenous grapes of their region, as well as to their individuality in expressing them. These men are Valentini, Gravner, and Miani.
But over the past 30 years, a fourth, far more obscure producer, Antonio Pulcini, has quietly been turning out white wines of similarly mind-bending complexity. The obscurity of Pulcini’s wines is in part due to his reclusiveness and how he chooses to sell his wines, exclusively from the cellar door of his estate, Colli di Catone. (He has long eschewed importers and critics.)
Pulcini works in an ancient villa overlooking Rome, whose 2000-year-old, catacomb-like cellar features a 300 A.D. Christian altar. The villa itself once belonged to the sister of Trajan—the Roman Emperor in the century after Christ’s death. And in the 1940s it housed Orson Welles and Tyrone Power, when they were filming on location in Rome. More relevantly, the villa is surrounded by vineyards planted on southwest-facing slopes of volcanic tufa soils; sites rich in minerals and prized by the ancient Romans.
Decoding a Mystery
As one peels back the layers, the compelling character of Pulcini’s wine begins to emerge. Despite a 20th Century spiral into mediocrity, the wines of Rome’s southern hills had once ranked among the finest in Italy. Like Prince Boncompagni Ludovisi at the nearby Tenuta di Fiorano, Pulcini aimed to craft wines that honored that history. He longed to make the kind of structured wines that could live for decades.
Unlike Fiorano, where non-native varieties were introduced, Pulcini chose to focus on indigenous white varieties that once made the region famous. And so, over 30 years ago, he tore out most of his modern Trebbiano and Malvasia di Candia, and today focuses on the ancient varieties, Malvasia del Lazio (a/k/a Malvasia Puntinata) and Grechetto (a/k/a Greco Bianco). Malvasia del Lazio was long recognized as the
region’s greatest historic variety; cherished for its wines’ minerality and ageability. Grechetto – unrelated to the Umbrian variety of the same name – was also prized for its minerality and lemony zing.
Pulcini makes an array of wines, but the best introduction to his style is his rendition of Frascati Superiore. He incorporates 40% Malvasia del Lazio into the conventional blend of Malvasia Candia and Trebbiano, and even these latter two varieties gain added character through his fastidious viticulture and famously low yields – less than half the legal limit. In his hands, this DOCG of often frivolous whites offers superb character and minerality.
ALL BOTTLES ARE 750 ML UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED
Adult Signature Required