None of Italy’s many mythic wines are as fascinating to me as the story of the eccentric Prince of Venosa, Alberico Boncompagni Ludovisi, whose family can be traced back at least 1,000 years, and includes two popes. This is a story, a fairy tale, about the stubborn, reckless, and passionate love affair of one man and his wines.
The Prince of Venosa occupied an estate called Fiorano, on the outskirts of Rome where in 1946, he replanted the vineyard with international varietals, including malvasia and sémillon. The prince was famous (and probably laughed at) for practicing organic grape growing, in the age of chemistry. He embraced the idea of low yeilds and unfiltered wines, and vinified in large barrels, which he reused every year, opposing the harsh impact of new oak. Few people knew (or still know) of the wines, although one of Italian Wine’s great wine writers, Luigi Veronelli, was among the first to rhapsodize about these odd eccentricities, writing “To obtain his cru is practically impossible,” and, “If I lived in Rome, I’d beg for them at the prince’s door every morning.”
It is said that the Prince was stubborn and elusive. That he never even met his importer, Neil Empson, in person, and that he refused to give interviews to the press or attend trade gatherings. The Prince continued to make his wines until 1995, although at some point he had stopped selling the bottles. After the ’95 harvest he pulled out all the vines in his vineyard. Nobody knows why.
Afterwards the estate lay silent and non-producing although about 14,000 bottles remained in his cellar until a few years ago when Mr. Luigi Veronelli sought out the Prince once more.
Mr. Veronelli requested a sample of one of the remaining bottles for a trade event. However a secretary was sent to give him a message that he could not have one bottle. He could have all 14,000- if he would disperse them properly. The Prince was nothing, if he wasn’t eccentric.
Today the wines are rare, hard to find and even harder to acquire. I was stunned and overwhelmed to see them on the wine list at L’Opera in Long Beach, CA, sliently waiting for an Italian Wine Geek like me to fall all over myself.
We were able to taste the 1992 malvasia, and it was simply gorgeous. Fresh, vibrant acidity, packed full of intense minerality and a lovely, luxurious mouthfeel. On the nose the wine is all tea leaves, dried roses, preserved limes and cardamom. The wine was such an exciting discovery, and a lovely experience all around. The malvasia also proved fantastic with food, especially a piece of delicately cooked salmon over braised beans and tomatoes.
Luigi Veronelli described the Fiorano wines best, saying, “They enchant you with the first taste, burrow in your memory and make you forever better.”
For the more about Fiorano’s story, please visit the Italian Wine Merchants website Here.