As soon the COVID-19 restrictions eased, I got back in my car, and started visiting wineries in the immediate proximities of Rome. The positive side of this post-pandemic months is that I have more time than ever before to fulfill the sommelier’s most enjoyable task: discover new wineries, wines and landscapes to update the wine lists I manage, and select some unusual treats for my customers.
A friend of mine recommended visiting I Chicchi, a biodynamic winery located in Ardea, a coastal township just south of the Eternal City. I have always been a fan of well-made natural wines, but what really pushed me to visit the winery is the desire to discover the terroir of Ardea, a place I have never associated with viticulture and wine production.
Enrico, the owner of I Chicchi, welcomed me in the most simple manner: a slice of bread, extra virgin oil and salt on top, and I immediately felt at home. As soon as I bit the bread, Enrico started presenting his vineyards and his wines. He explained that he purchased the 2 hectare plot in Ardea a few years ago, and then planted the vineyards in 2013. He pointed out that he has never analysed the soil, as he thinks there’s no need to do that when you follow a biodynamic approach – the preparations are just enough to achieve soil balance. This statement stupefies me. Everybody is bragging about super-meticolous zoning these days. By contrast, Enrico denies all of that, and solely relies on steinerian practices for high performance…
From a single hectare planted to Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Grenache and the indigenous Malvasia di Candia and Trebbiano Giallo – the remaining hectare is planted to olive trees – Enrico produces three wines: a white wine, a Grenache Rosè, and a 60% Cabernet Sauvignon – 40% Cabernet Franc blend called Torre Bruna. With strong enthusiasm he describes this part of Lazio, the morphology and soil composition of which derives from the eruption of the so called “Vulcano Laziale”, which took place approximately 600.000-200.000 years ago. He further evidences the cooling effect of the maritime breezes, and the presence of marine fossils right below the topsoil. I understand that he aspires to making a Bordeaux-styled when he tastes the 2016, and gladly affirms: “That’s Bordeaux!”
The first vintage of Torre Bruna was 2016. By that time, the vines were only three and a half years old. I found that to be somewhat awkward – vintners hardly ever make wine from plants that are less than five years old. However, the 2016 Torre Bruna is pretty amazing for a young vine wine!
Perhaps vintage variation is the biggest issue with I Chicchi’s wine, but that’s in line with the low intervention approach. I actually love the way these wines taste bold, ripe when the season is hot, and finer, lighter when it’s cool.
Before moving on to the tasting, I must mention the gorgeous labels designed by artist Alessandro Stenico. These wines grab your attention even before they are poured…
Maros 2018: Dark pink, almost light red. Crunchy aromas of wild strawberries and red cherry mingle with rose petal, eucalyptus and mineral hints on the complicated nose. The palate is medium-weight, linear, with fresh acidity upfront and light, pleasant tannins on the back end. Saline undertones echo on the finish.
Torre Bruna 2018: Brooding, impenetrable, and very restrained on the nose. Blackberry and dark cherry emerge as it unfurls in the glass. The palate is also very tight – and not convincing at all. The finish is short, and the tannins leave a bitter impression.
Torre Bruna 2017: Way better than the 2018. Eucalyptus, garrigue, graphite and plum emerge promptly. The palate is also dramatically different: soft tannins caress the harmonious esemble. The finish isn’t outstadingly long, but I love the saline impression that it leaves.
Torre Bruna 2016: As I said before, this was the first vintage, and the vines were extremely young. Honestly, I didn’t expect much, and I was mind-blown when I sniffed it. The gorgeous bouquet unveils tones of underbrush, mushrooms, eucalyptus and clove. The mouthfeel is long, the tannins chewy but refined. Bright acids mingle with savory notes, while quinine and tamarind echo on the satisfying finish.
I believe that we cannot yet say that these wines stand close to Bordeaux from a stylistic perspective, and yet I feel the potential is right there. For sure I will keep following I Chicchi in the years to come, and I am confident that Enrico will manage to recreate a tiny fragment of Bordeaux in the surroundings of the Eternal City.
Traslated by Raffaele Mosca