Today’s wine has one of the most operatic backstories ever. It starts with an eccentric Italian prince, who planted (mostly) Bordeaux varieties on the outskirts of Rome in the 1940s and became one of Italy’s pioneering (if reclusive) organic winemakers. The story re-starts, two generations later, with three of his granddaughters—Allegra, Albiera, and Alessia Antinori, scions of one of Italy’s largest wine companies—reviving vineyards on some of that land and crafting wines like “Appia Antica 400.”
You’ve heard of super-Tuscans? Well, this Bordeaux-style blend is a “super-Romano,” an homage to the reds Prince Alberico Boncompagni Ludovisi made at Tenuta di Fiorano. But this is where it gets complicated: Tenuta di Fiorano, and the wine made under that label, still exists. It is right across the street from Fattoria di Fiorano, which was created on property the Antinori women inherited from their grandfather. Some Italian wine lovers will recognize the Fiorano ‘brand’ name: The late Prince Alberico became an unlikely cult superstar in the early 2000s, after releasing a huge tranche of back-vintage wines from his cellar—wines that are still being tasted and talked-about among collectors today. The Antinoris are channeling his spirit in wines like today’s, from vineyards propagated with cuttings from the Prince’s original plantings. They’re also channeling great Bordeaux: Appia Antica 400 is an elegant introduction to an important new winery—not to mention a dramatic reminder that all $25 bottles are not created equal!
And because the Fiorano story has been well-covered elsewhere, I’ll try to keep it short here. Alberico Boncompagni Ludovisi was a visionary, and a well-connected one: Tuscan wine legend Tancredi Biondi Santi was his viticulture/winemaking consultant for most of Tenuta di Fiorano’s existence, and influential writer and critic Luigi Veronelli was a champion of the wines. Commercially, however, the Fiorano wines had little to no presence in the market, as the Prince preferred to sell his wines out the back door rather than through distribution channels. In 1998, he tore out most of his vineyards, proclaiming them to be in poor health. Years later, with his own health in decline, he retired to a hotel in Rome and allowed a local restaurateur (and a few lucky American merchants) to distribute most of his back-stock, which had sat untouched under a layer of mold in his cellar. The “buried treasure” aspect of this release, in the early 2000s, caused an international sensation, and was underscored by the fact that the wines were revelatory: The reds, crafted from Cabernet and Merlot, were reminiscent of classified-growth Bordeaux, and the whites, also Bordeaux-inspired (crafted from Sémillon and the local Malvasia), were downright magical. In an area known primarily for the insipid white Frascati, the Fiorano whites were bona-fide unicorns.
Today, there are two Fioranos: The original Tenuta di Fiorano winery and label passed to the late prince’s young cousin, Alessandrojacopo Boncompagni Ludovisi, who has re-planted vineyards and revived his grand-uncle’s brand over the last decade-plus, while Fattoria di Fiorano has emerged as a kind of intra-familial competitor. The Antinori sisters have endeavored to do everything the way Alberico would have, farming their vineyards organically and establishing vegetable gardens, an on-site dairy, and olive oil production.
“Appia Antica 400” is a reference to Rome’s ancient Appian Way, along which the Fattoria di Fiorano property sits (really, it’s hard to overstate the history of this place). Situated southeast of Rome’s city center, not far from Frascati and the ‘Castelli Romani,’ the Fiorano vineyards are rooted in soils rich in volcanic basalt. Today’s wine combines 50% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Cabernet Franc from a massale (field selection) of Prince Alberico’s original vine material. The grapes were destemmed and fermented in temperature-controlled concrete vats, then aged 6 months in concrete and 10 months in bottle before release.
The absence of any wood influence allows the dark fruit and minerality of the wine to shine: It has more of a “Right Bank” feel than a “Left,” with plummy Merlot fruitiness leading the way and hints of tobacco and graphite lending accent notes. In the glass, it’s a deep, luminous ruby moving to magenta/pink at the rim, with aromas of black plum, raspberry, tobacco, crushed stones, and mossy underbrush. It is medium-bodied, buoyant, and fresh, designed to be an “entry-level” bottling for an estate with big things up its sleeve. Decant it about 30 minutes before enjoying at 60-65 degrees in Bordeaux stems. When I think of all the affordable Bordeaux wines we offer here on SommSelect, and how much they over-deliver, this Italian version fits effortlessly into that mix. Pair it with a wide range of foods, from baked pastas to the attached beef braciole, which you might find in Rome. Enjoy!
Merlot 50%, Cabernet Sauvignon 40%, Cabernet Franc 10%