Dominga Cotarella at the Lincoln Restaurant in Lincoln Center
You might not know Renzo and Riccardo Cotarella, but most likely you have enjoyed one of their wines. Did I hear you say, “which one?”
Let’s start with any wine bearing an Antinori label after 1993, when Renzo was promoted to chief winemaker for all the Antinori Italian wine estates; or before that—dating to1979—maybe you had a wine from Antinori’s Umbria estate, Castello della Sala, where Renzo with the winemaker. Or, you might have had a glass or two of Antinori’s Lazio wine “Est! Est!! Est!!!,” another Renzo Cotarella wine that the brothers bought from Antinori in 1986.
While Renzo was making wine, Riccardo, meanwhile, was building a wine consulting business, which now spans the globe with nearly five dozen clients. He created Campania’s Montevetrano, a blend of aglianico and cabernet sauvignon; rejuvenated Sicily’s Nero d’Avola at Morgante, and stepped into history at Bethlehem’s Cremisan winery run by Salesian monks. In the galaxy of wine consultants, he is the Italian star.
But it is at Falesco, just southwest of Orvieto and bordering Lazio, that the two brothers unite. After the sudden death of their 48- year-old father, the Cotarellas decided to continue the family’s fledgling wine business in Lazio. Named for the people who spoke Latini, the region begot the city of Rome with its architectural splendor, the Empire, and the Latin language. Despite such riches, its wines were irrelevant.
Recently, Riccardo’s daughter, Dominga Cotarella was in Manhattan, presenting the family’s Ferentano and Montiano wines. Her father and uncle began Falesco in 1979, making Antinori’s EST wine. Ferentano is made from the local roscetto grape that Riccardo single-handily saved from extinction. The grapes grow near the ancient Lazio town, Ferentino, and gained its name from its rose-like color.
The first vintage of Ferentano was 1998; after the second vintage, Falesco stopped offering the wine because Riccardo realized he was making it as though it was chardonnay. Two years later, after modifying his winemaking to include flash freezing the grapes and mascerating the skins with the juice for up to 12 hours, Ferentano reentered the market with its own style.
The 2012 Ferentano has a wedding-band gold tint; it releases ginger and ripe pear aromas; rich, baked apple tart flavor is layered on a full body that finishes slightly off-dry. When I asked about the residual sugar, Dominga said, “We believe the roscetto grape loses its flavor and personality if it is fermented dry.” 89 points. Expect to pay about $25.
Riccardo Cotarella made one lasting contribution to the wine world with his embrace of roscetto; he gave us another with the creation of Montiano.
In the late 1980s, Riccardo planted merlot in Lazio’s volcanic soil–then unheard of. He developed a formula of fermenting it in stainless steel tanks, then transferring it to new French oak barrels for a year before bottling the wine for an additional 12 months of aging. From its first vintage in 1993, Montiano has been praised by wine writers and consumers.
From my glass, the 2012 Montiano swirled new oak’s vanilla scent with black tea and blackberry aromas. Its black fruit and black olive flavors were seamlessly stitched with soft tannins, giving this delicious red wine a long, fruit-filled finish. 91 points.
Riccardo Cotarella is known for blending New World plushness into his Old World wines, and you’ll find that in the 2010 Montiano. Pungent black fruit, and smoky and vanilla fragrances billowed from my glass; its medium body was packed with rambunctious blackberry and black-plum flavors girded with slick tannins that fans of New World wines will lap up. I prefer my wines a little more sedate, but I understand the appeal for those who like this style. 90 points.
Dominga poured the mature 2001 Montiano, whose mellow fruit aroma was a prelude to the very tasty black fruit elegantly integrated with tannins and acidity. After an hour in my glass, the blackberry fruit flavor was still fresh and delicious. 93 points. All three Montiano wines are available at about $46, respectively.
The tasting showed the Cotarellas are visionary winemakers who understand Lazio’s indigenous grapes and potential for foreign ones–even if they don’t speak Latini.