Why Damiano Ciolli is Essential
Wedged in between the colossus of Tuscany and volcanic Campania on the Italian wine map, Lazio has, in many ways, a few similarities to each. And yet, the region is also painting with its own spectrum of colors these days. Like its neighbors, mass-produced bulk wine continues to push the wine economy, but a band of independent, quality-minded winemakers are the ones who are really driving the cart forward.
Demonstrating this to full effect is Damiano Ciolli, an artisan winemaker in Olevano Romano, who — together with his enologist partner and spouse, Letizia Rocchi — is making some of Central Italy's most electrifying red wines. Production is quite small (that's part of the charm) but the two Cesanese d'Affile-based wines have an enticing electricity to them that will prevent you from ignoring Lazio much longer.
Ciolli and Rocchi are practicing organic and biodynamic, which has been a crucial and necessary transition for the soil of their vineyards after the post-war period saw an over-reliance on chemical-based treatments. And what soil they have! Mocha-colored and appearing like coffee grounds under a bed of grass, herbs and fava beans, the rich soil's volcanic nature runs very deep. Coaxing that unique character from the wines requires a light touch in the cellar, which Ciolli has seemingly perfected with a mix of concrete vats and large botti casks for fermentation of the Silene and Cirsium wines, respectively.