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A very classy italian

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A very classy italian
Article date: 20 Sep 2010

Discover Fontana Candida Frascati: savoury, pleasantly powerful and elegant.

Throughout the world, Fontana Candida is synonymous with Frascati.
This ancient wine, born in the Roman hills, has been a staple of Roman culture for almost 2,000 years and has deservedly been called ‘the wine of popes and of the people’. While the popes drank Frascati daily, the people would drink it on important Vatican occasions only.

Thankfully, you can savour the delights of this light, tasty wine, with a dry, crisp finish – whenever you choose. One sip and you can see why leaders of old were keen to keep much of it for themselves. You will also discover just why Frascati, as a fine wine, has stood the test of time and grown in popularity around the world.

The Fontana Candida at Wetherspoon is the most popular Frascati in the world. The current custodian, charged with maintaining its hard- earned respect and reputation for quality, is Mauro Merz. Mauro is a proud man who has spent half of his 50 years as a winemaker, driven with a passion for white wines, as he explains: “To be a successful winemaker, you can’ t be anything other than passionate about wine. My role is simply to create something from the collective labour of many hard-working and dedicated men and women.”

Mauro refers not least to the growers who live and work in the vineyards nestled in the volcanic hills of the Frascati commune near Rome. The nature of the porous, volcanic soils in this region is very important to the winemaker, as it is the nature of the soils (known as ‘terroir’) which influences the grapes grown on them, as Mauro explains: “Our soils are formed from volcanic ashes which have produced deep, sandy soil. It is very water- absorbent and rich in potassium and minerals which produce the extremely plump, flavourful grapes required for the Frascati wine. Understand this: however passionate or skilled the winemaker, the starting point to a great wine is always the grape. Without it, we are nothing.”

Luckily, Mother Nature plays a keen and pivotal role also, as the Mediterranean climate is a major factor in the vines and grapes’ quality. The ponentino (the breeze which comes from the sea) mitigates the heat of the hottest time of day in the summer; for the same reason, the winter is never very severe. Both factors are favourable for the vines: the high temperature and prolonged sunshine, typical of the months of September and October (the so-called Roman October), enable the grapes to ripen slowly and completely, giving a special character to the Frascati wine’s bouquet.
However, Mauro never loses sight of the fact that he and the band of growers are temporary custodians of the wine and that each generation has to be encouraged to care for and improve the vines constantly; after all, they’ve been handed down through generations.

“Vineyards are a natural, living thing and it is an honour to preserve and continue one of Italy’s best traditions, using thousands of years’ viticultural knowledge, but we have to ensure that the growers renew and regenerate their vineyards to carry on the work of their forefathers and to teach the next generation to do so.

“But we also must seek innovation and new techniques, when it comes to wine-making itself, making the best use of the bounty of grapes provided to us.
“I consider that a winemaker’s job is to carry on the tradition of the grape, but, equally, if we can use new techniques to enhance or develop certain characteristics which embody a true Frascati, but add extra crispness or lightness of taste and clarity of look, then we should.

“I have the desire to always try out new styles and vinification methods, to bring out the grapes’ best characteristics, but also to strive constantly for excellence.”
You sense that, for Mauro and his team, a little help at vintage time is very welcome. Two hundred local growers, many of whom have supplied grapes for Fontana for generations, deliver a combined total of 60,000 quintals of grapes to the Frascati cellar – that’s equivalent to millions of typical bags of grapes which you’d buy in the supermarket. Those growers used are the region’s most acclaimed and know what quality is expected of their grapes. In any event, they pride themselves in providing top-quality grapes. Even so, nothing is left to chance – and the team meticulously checks all of the grapes, ready for the wine-making process.

Mauro has a nose, an eye, a total sense of the grape: the science is a craft for him, as he explains: “My wine-making life is Frascati. I have been making wines since 1985; except for a small break to try my hand at the art of making spumante (a regional favourite of my home town of Trento), each year, I have made Frascati – and I never tire of it.”

One glance across the hills of the vineyard, at the people, at the sense of community, and you can see why. One look at the accolades from all over the world and you get a sense of why there is such pride in the achievements of this vineyard nestled in the Roman hills.

For me, it is reassuring that, in Mauro, Frascati has not only a driving force, protecting and advancing its heritage, but a man who also has a sense of balance and family. Asked what makes him smile, you would maybe expect him to proclaim ‘watching people enjoy my wine’. But, no, he is far more straightforward than that, offering the heartfelt response: “Watching my daughters sleeping, when I tuck in their blankets at night.”
Like his wine, this is a man perfectly balanced.

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