Sergio Mottura knows how to tell a yarn. His account of how he took the unregarded Grechetto grape variety and turned into into a prize-winning, oak-aged, ageable wine is laced with equal proportions of commitment to the variety, ambition for the wine and a certain disregard for precision when it comes to technical terms. His definition of organic would make certification bodies gnash their teeth. But most sommeliers, those who are actually going to promote the wine, won’t care. What does stand out is the quality of the wine and its ability to age. He treated the London wine trade to a wonderful vertical of his top dry wine, Latour a Civitella and to three vintages of this botrytis-affected sweet wine, Grechetto Muffo.
The back story for Latour a Civitella is worth telling. In Italian this means ‘Latour at Civitella, the place where the estate is based’ and that sums it up. Apart from collecting old clones of Grechetto, widely regarded as a variety for unexciting, bulk, wines, he also met Louis Latour who inspired him to ferment the variety in French barrique. The result was one of central Italy’s few feted white wines. 11 top ‘Tre Bicchieri’ prizes have followed for his efforts since the mid 1990s. He is also a powerful – and unusual – advocate for screw caps. He has no doubt that the older vintages are vastly better under this closure. As a result he does both screw cap for those who visit and are happy with this; and cork for the Italian dining market which is still implacably against.
The young vintages, especially the youthful 2014, really show the effect of oak ageing in a proportion of new French oak. (Stated to be 5% but tasted a lot more.) Quite powerful vanillin note with lovely peach and mango fruit, followed by lime, which for me is a real marker for the variety. Long, bold, showing real potential, Grechetto of this quality has structure and acidity. The mid-life vintage were all performing well: 2011 has settled down and was well knit-together with fine, candied peach notes. The first tertiary mushroom notes appear on the 2009, with the warm 2007 wine looking golden with well rounded fruit and 2006 showing a seamless honey, floral and depth of lime/citrus fruit. By 2005 we are well into candied lemon and mushroom territory, with no perceptible decline. The final wine, a rare bottle from 2001 – which we need to remember is now 15 years ago – is in splendid condition. Sergio is convinced it is going to be either corked or over the hill but neither is the case. A very beautiful mid gold in colour is followed by a lifted, outstanding, nose of honey, ripe fruit and some floral notes. The palate is leaner with the fruit beginning to fade, leaving some quite drying tannins. But we should celebrate this local celebrity and add it to the list of Italy’s great (and surprising) wines.