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40 minutes by car east of Rome, the fertile foothills of the Apennines rise up in central Italy. This is where the Romans got their red, sweet, sparkling Cesanese until a few years ago. In demijohns and plastic canisters. Chilled, this red was the summer wine alternative to the white wines of Frascati and the Alban Hills in the southeast of Rome. But the old clientele has meanwhile been banned from drinking by the doctor, and the new ones prefer to drink beer or wine from other regions instead of the traditional family drink Cesanese. Above all, however, less wine is drunk overall. Instead of large demijohns, people buy 0.75-litre bottles. Cesanese no longer sparkles either, and it has also become dry. However, the former draught wine Cesanese is not accepted in Rome as a more expensive bottled wine, so the producers are forced to look for new markets. For ten years, an increasing number of bottled producers have been struggling for sales and recognition. Given their still young experience as quality wine producers, they are still doing so somewhat clumsily. But Cesanese is a remarkable wine that will sooner or later reward the producers' efforts. Raffaella Usai and Andreas März report on the reinvention of an age-old wine.

You have to be very fond of the treasures of Italian wine culture to come across Cesanese. We at Merum love these half-buried wine originals, we enjoy tracking them down, perhaps giving them a little exposure and thereby contributing something to their development.

It is not always the tasting that motivates us to get to the bottom of an autochthonous wine, to visit it in its homeland. The Cesanese, on the other hand, immediately aroused our curiosity. Although from a purely oenological point of view there is something wrong with some of these wines, the special character of Cesanese comes through.

As wine lovers who care about the diversity of species and aromas in the wine world, we spontaneously took Cesanese to our hearts with its aromatic, warm fruit. After our first tasting last year, we already knew that Piglio, Affile and Olevano would be on our itinerary sooner or later. (We tasted the Cesanese for the Selezione issues 4/2009 and 3/2010).

Cesanese: dramatically unknown

As long as no one talks about Cesanese and no one writes about it, it does not exist. So hardly anyone knows it outside the Lazio region. This is a difficult situation for the Cesanese winegrowers, because a wine region can only make a name for itself if its production also reaches more distant destinations. But how can the wine get there if it is a stranger there? If Cesanese is so unknown, it is also because although it was awarded DOC almost 40 years ago - three different ones, in fact - hardly anything was bottled and marketed as DOC wine. In contrast to other regions, where there was a massive reaction to the decline in wine consumption with quality and marketing, people here seem to have been asleep. Lazio's wine-growing area has declined significantly in the past 20 years: from a total of 60,000 hectares at the beginning of the 1990s, the area under cultivation has fallen to 24,000 hectares today.

Cesanese is a historical wine, so to speak, but it only has a ten-year "history" as a quality or DOC wine. In the entire wine-growing region, there are very few wineries that produced bottled wine before 2000. In this sense, Cesanese is one of the youngest appellations in Italy. Although the variety is extremely interesting, there is no sign of a run by investors on the unplanted sites of Piglio, Affile and Olevano Romano. Mariano Mampieri from the regional agricultural authority: "In the past, bigger wine producers have always stopped by here and were interested in the Cesanese. But the fact that there is hardly any contiguous land to buy here has kept them from investing."

From Damiano Ciolli's cellar, you can see Fernando Proietti's large vineyard in the distance. 16 hectares in one piece, the largest contiguous parcel in the area. In fact, the land here is decidedly small parcelled. The development of the Cesanese will therefore also in the future only be able to progress slowly, as larger areas are not available, at least in the hills. Moreover, land is not cheap: one hectare in the municipality of Olevano costs between 60,000 and 80,000 euros.

The unfamiliarity of Cesanese is a particular problem for producers who want to sell the wine outside Rome. Benedetto Lombardi from Piglio is self-critical: "In Lazio we made two serious mistakes! We have never known how to properly appreciate and market two important wines of our region: on the one hand, Frascati, which was once a really good white wine a long time ago, and on the other hand, we had a kind of Bracchetto d'Acqui, namely the sweet Cesanese. Unfortunately, we have ruined the reputation of both wines. The oenologist Domenico Tagliente came to Piglio from Apulia in 1970 and, as technical director of the Cantina Sociale of Piglio, fell in love with Cesanese. As an expert, he immediately recognised that this was an unusual variety. At the time - when the wine was bottled sparkling and sweet in demijohns - he was one of the few who took Cesanese seriously as a dry red wine. In the cellar, he explored the abilities of the variety. But he did not succeed in producing a wine of consistent quality over the years.

In his opinion, this was primarily due to the outdated vineyards. Tagliente: "Between 1970 and 1975, I replanted 247 hectares of vineyards and researched the Cesanese. As we know, there are two Cesanese families, the Comune or Nostrano and the Affile. Together with researchers from the Institute in Conegliano and the University of Viterbo, we studied the clones. "Tagliente: "I prefer the clones of the Affile family, even if they are more difficult in the vineyard." A total of 21 Cesanese clones were found, seven of which seem to be particularly valuable. Tagliente has been planting these seven Cesanese clones since 2001. Tagliente: "The results are amazing!" The Affile is late-ripening, whereas the Comune ripens a whole month earlier. But even the preferred Affile has its quirks: if it doesn't get enough sun in the two months before harvest, it doesn't yield satisfactory quality either.

When asked about the origin of the name Cesanese, Tagliente, who is never at a loss for an answer, explains: "The name Cesanese comes from a forest called Cese, which was cleared here to plant vineyards." Presumably, however, as is the case elsewhere, there are another dozen more or less plausible explanations for the origin of the varietal name.In the past, Cesanese was also cultivated outside its current home. In the Castelli Romani, for example, it was the predominant red variety, but was then increasingly displaced by white varieties.

Rome and the rest of the world

Selling their wine was never a problem for the winegrowers here. As soon as the vinification was finished, they opened the cellar doors and the wine literally flowed off towards Rome. The production was large; until a few years ago, there were still vines in today's meadows and fields. Quality was not in demand, the thirst of the people was not choosy.

Although the three Cesanese appellations - Piglio, Affile and Olevano Romano - received DOC recognition as early as 1973, practically all the wine was sold openly as table wine. At that time, per capita consumption in Italy was still over 100 litres. Bottling it meant a superfluous, cumbersome obstacle on the wine's way from the cellar to the cup. But then Italy's wine consumption abruptly collapsed by half in the 1980s. The Romans also drank less and less, Cesanese sold more slowly, grape prices fell and the area under cultivation declined.

As late as 1970, when sales were booming, there were 2000 hectares of vineyards in Olevano Romano alone. The popularity of the sweet-pearly Cesanese managed to hold on until the end of the 1980s, then the little qualified Cesanese thirst quickly collapsed. Most of the vineyards were abandoned and used for other purposes. Today, there are still between 600 and 700 hectares in Olevano.

Those who wanted to continue producing wine tried their hand at bottling. Not all winegrowers, however, understood straight away that bottled wine production cannot mean simply bottling open wine. They first had to learn that bottled wine customers have higher expectations of wine than basket wine customers.

This learning and rethinking phase is not yet complete, not all cellars are at the necessary technological level, and some wines still leave a lot to be desired. Fernando Proietti: "Many winemakers have a problem with the cleanliness of the wines. There are only a few pure-toned wines." The problem exists, but the producers know it and are working on its solution. Without a doubt, the Cesanese will have taken a gratifying step forward in just five years.

Hardly any of the producers we visited were not planning major renovations to their cellars or had already implemented them. The oenological revolution that took place in Tuscany in the 1980s is now being observed in the Cesanese wine-growing region with a 30-year delay. The tradition-related commercial ignorance of the producers, the still young existence of bottle production and the disinterest in wine discoveries due to the global economy can be seen in the low bottle prices. The best Cesanese of the Merum Selezione (4/2009 and 3/2010) almost all cost between 3.50 and 6.00 euros/bottle for private customers ex farm.

Actually, one would think that the proximity of Rome would make it easier for the few up-and-coming quality producers to sell their bottles. The opposite is the case! In Rome, the name Cesanese is synonymous with cheap everyday wine; no one there takes a somewhat more expensive quality wine of the same name seriously.

Rome is first and foremost the capital of Italy and is not perceived as a city of Lazio by the inhabitants of the surrounding areas. Mariano Mampieri (regional agricultural authority) lives in Olevano Romano, is a weekend winemaker and daily Rome commuter: "Rome is a cosmopolitan city, the Romans don't feel connected to us. Although we are only about 60 kilometres away from the capital, we have no advantages from this proximity. Of all the Rome tourists, hardly any ever stray into our area. The capital is a fiercely competitive market where all wine suppliers want to be present. Many bad wines are also offered there, cheap ones, even many from abroad. Cesanese is considered a draught wine in Rome, it is known from the inns of the past and does not have a very good reputation. Wines from other regions sell much better.""Unfortunately, a large part of our production is still sold to Rome," complains Flavio Buttarelli, "I say unfortunately because the thousands of restaurants in Rome are more interested in quantity than quality. The mentality of the innkeepers is this: 'What do we care about pouring good wine for the tourists, they're only staying for a day after all'. This business philosophy may have suited the Cesanese in the past. Damiano Ciolli confirms his colleague's negative opinion of Roman gastronomy: "It is very difficult to sell quality in Rome. It will take a few more years for a market for quality Cesanese to develop there. The restaurants are used to paying no more than one euro per litre for Cesanese. If we present ourselves with bottles that cost five euros, we have little chance of getting a place on the wine list.

Selling wine is really hard work, I take part in many tastings in Rome to make my wine better known. On the other hand, when I present my wine outside the region, Cesanese is completely unknown there. Often people even think 'Cesanese' is a fantasy name. "Wine marketing is new territory for the Cesanese winegrowers. But if they want to free themselves from the fatal dependence on Rome, they cannot avoid getting on a plane. Fernando Proietti: "It is difficult to get in touch with foreign importers. But at tastings, as recently in London, I find that the Cesanese appeals, that it appeals to people and interests them. Cesanese is very unusual. Because it is so different, you can't compare it to other wines. Young companies are looking for importers, but they do not yet have the necessary know-how in foreign marketing. Alessandra Borgia from Pileum: "We want to participate in several wine fairs abroad soon to make importers aware of our wine. However, we know how difficult it is to find foreign distributors. But somehow we have to start building a market."

Benedetto Lombardi: "I regularly take part in tastings in Italy or abroad to present my wines. Unfortunately, apart from Merum, hardly any wine magazines have been interested in Cesanese so far. You read very little about our region and our wines in the press. We are still at the very beginning with marketing and advertising."

The DOC without wine

The problem of the traditional distribution system that no longer works is most evident in the example of Affile. The Cesanese di Affile DOC has theoretically existed since 1973, but for 30 years no bottle of it was bottled. Wine has always been produced in the high vineyards of Affile, but the DOC certification has never been claimed. The winegrowers vinified their grapes, but sold the wine openly to private customers. Then, in 2003, the DOC Affile suddenly faced extinction because the DOC had not been claimed for 30 years. The Ministry of Agriculture threatened to cancel the appellation. Today, however, the remaining winegrowers of Affile depend on the DOC if they want to save their vineyards, because open wine can no longer be sold and, above all, no longer covers costs. In order to save the DOC from cancellation at the last moment, 21 residents of Affile founded the Colline di Affile cooperative in September 2004. In 2004 the first vintage was vinified and the next year the first ever bottle of Cesanese di Affile DOC was put on the market. Riccardo Baroni is one of the men to whom Affile DOC owes its narrow survival. Baroni is not a wine expert, but he knows that without his commitment to Affile something important would be lost.

The cooperative has the grapes from the three hectares vinified and bottled at Piglio's cantina. Baroni: "None of us are full-time winemakers, but we all own a small piece of land and want to contribute to saving the DOC." The president is the former director of the bank, Gustavo Alimontani, and the vice-president is Riccardo Baroni, who also works at the Bank of Affile. Since wine production - at best only in the early years - costs quite a bit of money, the founding members soon found themselves financially overburdened. So the idealists of Affile expanded the cooperative to 61 partners. With the fresh money, three hectares could be planted. Now they hope to produce 10,000 bottles from the 2010 vintage. Baroni: "Our story is an example of solidarity. The people from Affile have contributed together to save the DOC. Of course, we also have to admit the criticism that this came much too late, because actually, they should have started to take our hills and their cultivation seriously 40 years ago. But better late than never..."

In fact, there is not much going on here in Affile anymore. Agriculture and handicrafts seem to no longer exist, and during the week housewives, small children and pensioners dominate the village scene. Those who have a job drive to Rome early in the morning to work.

Baroni, who takes care of the bureaucratic affairs and the financial matters of the cooperative, is not put off by the depressing situation of his hometown for us strangers and believes in the glorious wine future of Affile: "The microclimate in Affile is special, and the wines are very different from those from Piglio or Olevano Romano. We are surrounded by mountains, our vineyards are between 500 and 600 metres above sea level."

Indeed, Affile's Cesanese could be something special, if it existed... Baroni promises that in the coming years some winemakers will come forward with their bottles, naming Formigoni, Perez, Mossetti and Morigoni as winemaking hopefuls alongside his cooperative - the Colline di Affile/Vigne Nuove. Together with Baroni, we hope that the wine will be able to breathe life back into Affile.

Finding identity and quality

Not only wine lovers should get to know this wine, but the winemakers themselves are still searching for the true Cesanese. Flavio Buttarelli: "After only ten years of quality wine experience, most of us are not clear about what this wine should actually be like, what its identity is and how to bring it to fruition. Cesanese is still an unknown for us too."

Since consumption is stupidly dwindling with the growth of competition, the winegrowers are dependent on good ideas if they don't want to plough up their remaining vineyards as well. Damiano Ciolli: "We can't get anywhere with the price argument alone; that doesn't give us a chance against the international competition. Today we have to focus on typicality and authenticity. For this reason, we have decided to vinify the Cesanese single-varietal. When wine drinkers buy a bottle of Cesanese, they expect a typical and special wine, not a fashionable wine with an international character."

The winegrowers with whom we talked already assess their situation correctly. They know that on the one hand they have to ensure a high quality of their wines, but on the other hand they also have to define the identity of Cesanese and communicate it sooner or later. An important prerequisite for constant quality is a balanced load on the vines. With yields at the upper limit of their capacity, there are setbacks on the grape quality if the weather is not optimal. Today, winegrowers striving for quality are forced to reduce their yields per hectare.

The new production regulations, currently in the waiting room of the Ministry of Agriculture, also take this development into account. Flavio Buttarelli: "The old production regulations stipulated a yield of 12 500 kilos per hectare. In the new one, the maximum yield for the Superiore has been lowered to 10 000 kilos. For my Cesanese, I harvest between 6,500 and 8,000 kilos per hectare. "Today, many owners of small vineyards sense that their grandfather's vines are not just a burden, but might even yield something. Thus, the number of Cesanese labels is continuously increasing, especially in Piglio. The Cantina Sociale of Piglio serves as a springboard for many new producers. Of the 700,000 bottles produced by the cantina, more than half are for customers.

Domenico Tagliente, formerly an oenologist at Piglio's Cantina Sociale, now a consultant in his own right: "The cellar cooperative is the mother of these small businesses. Everyone benefits, the cellar cooperative can continue to invest to keep cellar technology up to date, the new winemakers don't need to build their own cellar right at the beginning of their career."

Damiano Ciolli: "My father cleared all the Cesanese vineyards in the 1980s and planted white grape varieties with a pergola system. Of course, with yields of 15,000 to 20,000 kilos per hectare, it was not possible to produce high quality. From 2001 onwards, we gradually converted everything to Cesanese and low yields per hectare. "The steep downward curve of Cesanese viticulture seems to be showing an upward bend for the first time in recent years. Tagliente: "The vineyard area has declined sharply in the past 40 years. From the original 345 hectares in 1973, we have shrunk to 145 hectares of Cesanese del Piglio today. But in the last four or five years, new vineyards have been planted again."

Olevano Romano, Piglio and Affile...

The small towns of Olevano, Piglio and Affile look imposing from afar. They look like artistically arranged, rickety cairns on top of green hills. The first of these "stones" must have been erected there long ago, probably before the Romans. Then, in the Middle Ages, popes and powerful families built churches and castles, erected protective walls, ceded or conquered the places; depending on the era, a different wind blew, there were different lords. We were particularly impressed by Olevano Romano. The historic part of town is surprisingly large and not accessible by car. Alleys, small squares, stairways, flower-adorned house entrances, surprising vistas, street altars, churches, residential buildings, pretty much everything saved directly from the Middle Ages into today. We spent an entire evening stair-climbing around the historic town. An experience we can only recommend to our readers.Olevano, by the way, has a special friendship with Germany. Famous romantic artists lived and painted here at the beginning of the 19th century. Even today, numerous German and Danish artists live in the town. (See box.)

It's just a pity that the landscape around the historic little town is disfigured by a kind of cement acne of stuffy suburban villas. Town and landscape planning here seems to mean pouring tons of cement into the most hackneyed, habitable structures possible at every panoramic corner. Only in the city centres themselves is the architectural world still in order. And that is probably only because the cement sacks would have to be carried on their backs through the narrow alleys to their destination. Because wherever the cement truck goes, there it has already been!

...and their wines

The three villages form the core of the Cesanese production area. Affile is the highest, the vineyards here are over 500 metres above sea level. This means that the grapes ripen later in Affile than in Piglio and in Olevano (up to just under 400 metres).

Flavio Buttarelli tells us how the winegrowers used to take advantage of this time difference: "In Olevano, the grapes were harvested in mid-October and made into a dry wine. In the first days of November, the farmers went to Affile with their donkeys to buy grapes. They tipped a vat of grapes from Affile into each barrel. Thanks to a second fermentation, the winegrowers then obtained a sparkling wine with residual sugar. Between December and March, this Cesanese was then quickly drunk away in Rome.

Today, only a little sweet wine is produced. This, by the way, is the big difference between Olevano and Piglio. While in Olevano mainly sweet wine was produced, in Piglio they have always pressed dry wine as well. In Affile, on the other hand, there was both sweet and dry Cesanese."

Why three DOCs are needed for less than 200 hectares of Cesanese is something no one really understands. Some try to justify the division into three with the different soils, growing conditions and wines, others are more realistic and explain it with local political reasons. The creation of the three DOCs may have taken place in 1973, but the steeple has not lost a bit of its political significance in the meantime. For how else could it be explained that the Cesanese del Piglio has claimed and received the DOCG for itself alone? It has nothing to do with the quality of the wines. It is probably because the Lazio region did not have a DOCG appellation until now. So with the Cesanese del Piglio DOCG, they probably wanted to make up for it.

However, there were efforts to combine the three mini-appellations. Mariano Mampieri: "In 2003, I made the proposal to found a single DOC with three sub-appellations. At that time, I was still president of the Olevano wine cooperative. Unfortunately, this proposal was rejected. The different communes could not agree. That was quite a blow at the time, because we had really believed in a joint project."

Armando Terenzi: "The Cesanese del Piglio is better known than those from Olevano and Affile. Because Cesanese di Olevano Romano was a sweet wine in the past, the winemakers there still struggle with that image. We have it easier, since dry wine has always been pressed in Piglio. But the producers are not enemies, on the contrary, we all get along well and exchange ideas. It's not us producers, but our politicians who don't want a common DOC or DOCG!"

Fernando Proietti: "At least a joint protection consortium for all three Cesanese should have been set up. But the politicians have not allowed an agreement here either. The mayors are in their own way and don't think about the winegrowers or that much more could be achieved with united forces and a joint stance."

One DOCG for five and a half winegrowers

For a year now, Cesanese del Piglio has held the DOCG. Actually, nobody understands this promotion. Some incomprehensible incompetent gave the official horse its spurs and rode this nonsense unhindered through the courts. Now a handful of wine producers from Piglio have to spoon up the unwanted DOCG soup without having any idea how hot it is: the certification of a DOCG wine is not only enormously cumbersome and time-consuming, but also costly. It is to be expected that the Piglio winemakers will not be happy about their G for long.

We could never make friends with this DOC "G" ("guaranteed" DOC) anyway, which degrades all DOCs without a G to "non-guaranteed". If a wine like Cesanese del Piglio, which nobody knows, whose winemakers have not yet proven that they know their craft and of which not a single really excellent wine is on the market, is elevated to the status of DOCG, then this shows once again the importance that is to be attached to this category in reality.

Benedetto Lombardi draws attention to another problem: "Things have gone wrong here in recent years. In 2009, the appellation Cesanese del Piglio received the DOCG. In my opinion, wrongly, because the quality of most of the wines is not DOCG-worthy.

But the bigger problem is that there is no catch-all DOC below it into which wines not worthy of DOCG can be downgraded. For us, this means that a Cesanese that does not meet the high DOCG requirements has to be labelled as IGT. That doesn't make much sense, because in the end the bulk of Cesanese del Piglio risks having to be sold as IGT Lazio." And then there's the price... Not only can you expect a special quality from a red DOCG wine, you also expect to have to pay more for it than for a simple table wine. So there is a lack of surefootedness not only in the cellar, but also in the prices. Besides fantasy prices with a barrique surcharge, you can find Cesanese del Piglio DOCG for little more than three euros. These are not good conditions for creating a communicable image of the appellation and certainly not for a DOCG.

Antonio Di Cosimo, owner of the most modern - and capital-intensive - winery in the area, Corte dei Papi (formerly Colletonno), is more optimistic about the situation of the Piglio DOCG: "Along with the DOCG, we have founded the protection consortium for the Cesanese del Piglio. The consortium is responsible for ensuring that the strict production rules are observed both in the cellar and in the vineyard.

We are only a small appellation, and the main five or six wineries are able to meet the DOCG conditions. Of course, there are smaller wineries that still need to work on quality, but they are on a good path. We have tried to bring the other appellations into the consortium in order to pursue joint sales and marketing strategies. Unfortunately, that failed for village political reasons."

Rome pilgrims: rest in Olevano!

Looking back, many positive memories remain of the Cesanese. The landscape and the places are - if you ignore the ugly urban sprawl - extremely charming and worth a visit. A trip to the hinterland of Rome is also recommended for friends of good food: we had very good to excellent meals in the restaurants described on page 56!

The Cesanese is a very special wine, whose aromatic fruit is reminiscent of the Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato (Piedmont) and the Lacrima di Morro d'Alba (Marche) and has the best chances of finding lovers abroad. The Cesanese region is in a phase of positive change, producers are striving to catch up quickly and meet the modern demands of the international market. For the wine traveller, the fact that even very good Cesanese can be had from the winegrowers for less than five euros a bottle is certainly also attractive, and the winegrowers are happy to welcome visitors.

The most inspiring thing, however, is the atmosphere among the producers. Young winemakers like Fernando Proietti, Damiano Ciolli, Flavio Buttarelli, Mariano Mampieri and others do not see themselves as competitors, but as a group. They stick together. There is no better prerequisite for successful times!

We recommend our readers to reserve two or three days for the Cesanese on their next visit to Rome. If you are travelling by car but don't feel like the Roman traffic chaos, you would do well to stay in a quiet hotel in the countryside and visit the city by train. In the evening, you can enjoy the peace and quiet of the countryside after the hustle and bustle and the heat of the city, and have a nice dinner away from the crowds of tourists...

Chatting from the vineyard and cellar...

Damiano Ciolli: "Part of the soil here in Olevano is volcanic rock and very fertile. The other is clay soil."
Armando Terenzi: "We have converted almost all our vineyards to Affile-Cesanese because this clone produces higher quality wines. It is more difficult to manage in the vineyard, but it is worth it. Over the past 15 years, we've seen that time and time again."
Fernando Proietti: "The Cesanese has been proven here for 250 years. Two clones are grown: The Cesanese Comune and the Cesanese Affile. The two are very different from each other. The grapes of the Cesanese di Affile are smaller and looser than those of the Comune clone. This means they get more sun, the wines are often more concentrated and produce more colour. The Cesanese Comune is similar to the Pinot Noir in some ways, it has few anthocyanins and can be very elegant. The Affile grape weighs only between 250 and 300 grams, the Comune can weigh up to 900 grams."
Damiano Ciolli: "I usually harvest at the end of September, beginning of October."
Fernando Proietti: "Our harvest takes place in the first two weeks of October. After that it already becomes problematic, the grapes are overripe, the alcohol gets too high."
Benedetto Lombardi: "The Cesanese is an idiosyncratic grape variety that ripens very late. We usually harvest after All Saints' Day, so at the beginning of November."
Flavio Buttarelli: "The Cesanese are very different among themselves. Some colleagues work with barriques, the others with large wooden barrels, still others grow the Cesanese only in steel tanks."
Fernando Proietti: "The Cesanese is an elegant wine that reacts extremely to wood. When it is aged in barriques, it changes a lot. It has an aromatic fruit and can be drunk both young and mature. For some years now, I have been ageing the Cesanese in cement tanks, as these containers suffer less from temperature fluctuations."

Oasis of creativity
German artists in Olevano Romano

A very special, centuries-old friendship links Olevano Romano with Germany, founded on an artistic oasis that German as well as Austrian landscape and genre painters such as Joseph Anton Koch, Johann Christian Reinhart, Viktor von Scheffel and Franz Horny, who died at an early age, built there at the beginning of the 19th century.

Attracted by the unspoiled nature, the narrow, winding alleys and the great hospitality of the locals, the German Romantics made their adopted home of Olevano Romano a focal point for artists from Northern and Central Europe throughout the 19th century. The Dresden art historian and patron Carl Friedrich von Rumohr, a great connoisseur of Italian art, repeatedly invited artists to Olevano, who left their mark everywhere.

This friendship is still cultivated today. The former artists' hostel Casa Baldi, built in 1778, now belongs to the Federal Republic of Germany, and the oak forest Serpentara, with the villa of the same name built by Heinrich Gerhard in 1906, is also the property of the Academy of Arts in Berlin.

Young German artists regularly take up the three-month Villa Serpentara scholarship and continue the artistic exchange.

Raffaella Usai

Three restaurant tips
It's worth stopping here!

Taverna Colonna, Paliano
Coziness in action

When we entered the Taverna Colonna in Paliano, we were immediately greeted by warmth and great attention to detail. The couple Francesca Litta and Vincenzo d'Amato run the restaurant, which is very popular in the area and is located in the former riding stable of the noble Colonna family.

Francesca is responsible for the service, while Vincenzo unleashes his creativity in the kitchen. Both passionate about slow food have been in the restaurant business since 1984, and Taverna Colonna opened in 2001. Francesca is held in high esteem in the area because she is a strong supporter of local wines and, above all, local agriculture.

"We decided at the time to open a smaller restaurant because we wanted to work only with local produce. These are niche productions that are only available in small quantities. Our work is very much related to the search for forgotten and rare products from our area. There is a great satisfaction in knowing exactly where the food you offer to your guests comes from," says Francesca.

As a speciality, the kitchen offers donkey meat, as Paliano is the headquarters of the national consortium for the protection of donkey milk. "The meat comes from the male donkeys, which are no more than one year old. We prepare a braised meat in herb sauce from it," explains chef Vincenzo. "The ideas for new dishes come with the discovery of new products. There is a wonderful climate here, for example capers, prickly pears and saffron grow here. I can be incredibly creative with these," Vincenzo enthuses. "The local wines go best with our cuisine. We have been supporting Cesanese for twenty years now by offering it at reasonable prices," says Francesca.

Indeed, a bottle of Vignalibus from Proietti costs eight euros at the table. For a tasting menu with typical products and local wines for two people you pay no more than 60 euros, for a complete menu for two with a bottle of Cesanese around 80 euros.

Taverna Colonna, Via Lepanto 5, 03018 Paliano (FR), Tel. +39 0775 571044, closed on Sunday evening and Monday, www.tavernacolonna.info

Ristorante Colline Ciociare
"Luxury of simplicity"

If the - wealthy - Romans want to take a break from the stressful big city at the weekend and treat themselves to something special, they head to the Cioceria (part of the province of Frosinone) and stop at the Ristorante Colline Ciociare in Acuto. The restaurant was recommended to us by a friend with the words: "The best the Ciociaria has to offer". This statement was to prove true.

To welcome us, chef Salvatore Tassa spoiled us with fine and original antipasti. After this amuse-gueule we already knew: Artists are at work here. And the next course also delighted us. The fettuccine with grilled cherry tomatoes, pecorino and bourbon vanilla is not without reason one of the restaurant's classics. "For 15 years now, the restaurant has been defending its Michelin star, and enthusiastic gourmets from all over Italy travel especially to dine with us," Salvatore Tassa's son Walter, who as restaurant manager is responsible for the flawless running of the room, proudly explains to us. Self-confidence without arrogance - Walter knows exactly what his restaurant has to offer. But who is the person behind all this variety of flavours, this imagination and creativity? Chef Salvatore Tassa, himself the son of a family of restaurateurs, decided in 1988 to transform his parents' simple trattoria into a gourmet temple of excellence.

Actually, he had initially chosen a completely different path. Architecture and design were close to the young Salvatore's heart, and yet he unexpectedly dropped out of his architecture studies shortly before graduation to devote himself to gastronomy. Inspired by the Swiss star chef Frédy Girardet, Tassa acquired everything that distinguishes him today: Precision, individuality, style and a pinch of madness, as he says himself. Today he is considered one of the most creative chefs in Italy, playing with the individual ingredients and creating a work of art from the simple that delights the eye and the palate. Those who like star cuisine will find their paradise here.

The lunch menu with two courses and dessert costs 50 euros per person, the regular menu with four courses 80 and the premium menu "The Luxury of Simplicity" 95 euros per person (without wine). Before each menu, guests are served a rich antipasto. In any case, it is recommended to announce one's coming and to reserve the table the day before.

Ristorante Colline Ciociare, Via Prenestina 27, 03010 Acuto (FR), Tel. +39 0775 56049, Closed: Sunday evening, Monday and Tuesday noon, www.salvatoretassa.it

Hotel Ristorante Il Boschetto
Family hospitality

The hotel and restaurant Il Boschetto in Olevano Romano is lovingly run by the Ciolli family and is our accommodation tip for this area. No luxury, but a family atmosphere and the informal manner make Il Boschetto a perfect starting point to explore the surroundings.

Silvestro Ciolli looks after the hotel and the hall with his daughters Giulia and Eleonara, and his wife Margherita is responsible for the kitchen. "I sometimes help out in the kitchen when there is a lot to do. Besides, many of the recipes still come from my mother and her mother. I enjoy carrying on the old traditions. We offer our guests a cuisine that they might remember from their grandmother, but would never prepare themselves," says wine lover Silvestro. In the 1950s, Il Boschetto was opened as a classic osteria by his grandparents, and at the end of the 1960s a few rooms were added, even though at that time tourism was rather limited to a few Romans who wanted to spend a weekend in nature.

In 1990, the family decided to remodel and enlarge both the restaurant and the hotel. "We wanted to put more quality and typicity into our work, so we divided the restaurant into different halls.

The elegant main hall houses the restaurant, while the pizzeria and wine bar are situated in the lower area, although the latter only opens at weekends and attracts more of a local clientele," says Silvestro. "In the little free time I have left, I devote myself to our Compagnia di Ermes winery with my brother-in-law. A total of twelve hectares of vineyards are cultivated, and our own winery is currently being built," Silvestro proudly tells us. All the wines can also be bought at the hotel. Especially the rosé wine "Rosa" IGT Lazio is recommended and costs 5 euros on site.

A complete menu in the restaurant for two people with a bottle of Cesanese costs around 80 euros. For a double room with breakfast, you pay 70 euros per night. All rooms were renovated last year and are comfortably furnished.

Hotel Ristorante Il Boschetto, Viale S. Francesco d'Assisi 95, 00035 Olevano Romano (RM), Tel. +39 06 9564025, Restaurant closing day: Wednesday. www.ilboschettodiolevano.it

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