New Yorkers of a certain age will remember the moment that the “Prince’s wines” came to town.
It was an auspicious moment for Italian wine.
The Italian wine renaissance in full swing by that point. But few Italian wines could command the prices that these new arrivals could. Even more impressive was the fact that these were white wines with considerable age on them: Sémillon and Malvasia from the 1970s and 80s.
Eric Asimov, writing for the Times, noted that at least one of the wines he tasted in situ seemed “impossibly young.” That’s how fresh and vibrant they were. He compared another to white Burgundy.
By all accounts (both anecdotal and authoritative), Alberico Boncompagni Ludovisi, prince of Venosa, was a pioneer of organic farming and spontaneous fermentation in Italy. He was perhaps the first Italian grower who purposefully made “natural” wines, however ante litteram.
Today, that legacy is quietly and brilliantly nurtured by his nephew Alessandrojacopo Boncompagni Ludovisi at Fiorano, his uncle’s farm outside Rome.
What only a handful of New Yorkers, current and lapsed, will remember is that in an era before the new wave of Italian wine, Fiorano was also renowned and perhaps even more famous for its red wines made from Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grown in Lazio’s volcanic soils.
On day 3 of my Vinitaly, the current prince received me for a tasting of the new vintages of his wines.
This is Italian Cabernet Sauvignon in one of its greatest expressions imho. The wine was fresh and lithe in the glass with elegant notes of tar and earth balanced by restrained but deliciously present red and slightly underripe red and black fruits.
These wines don’t evoke Bordeaux, however facile the analogy would be. Instead, they are extremely Italian, or should I say Latian, in their nature.
If any allusion can be made, they call to mind the great Spring Mountain District Cabernet Sauvignon made by its more judicious purveyors.
My favorite story to tell about the prince came about when he and I presented a flight of older wines from his cellar at a dinner in Los Angeles many years ago now. He had flown in especially for our event. When I asked what he planned to do with his free time in the city, he told me he was heading to the Getty to view a portrait of one of his ancestors — a pope. For us it’s history. For him, it’s like looking at an old family album.
Check out the wines. They are fantastic.