When I wrote in my notes…
Create curiosity and knowledge.
…I knew I’d come to admire Dominga Cotarella.
Dominga (I’ll use first names throughout, to avoid confusion) is a second-generation owner in the Cotarella family winemaking business, Falesco, originated in 1979 by her father Riccardo Cotarella and her uncle Renzo Cotarella. Dominga and her cousins Marta and Enrica eased into the Falesco leadership roles in 2015. The first generation was all-male, the second generation is all-female.
The energy that Dominga and her cousins bring to the transition is indicative of what it takes to maintain buoyancy in the modern landscape of making wine. My conversation with Dominga happened in an entirely modern way, over Skype. We shared a tasting of her wines and a discussion that covered everything: wine, creativity, progress, art, terroir, cuisine and family. Her theme seems to be the balance that exists between all of these things.
Falesco: A Background
Falesco began in 1979 when the Cotarella brothers set out to restore ancient vineyards in Montefiascone, Lazio. Lazio is in central Italy and includes the city of Rome. It is a cradle for ancient wines based on rich, volcanic soil. By the early 1990’s Falesco’s attention focused cleanly on a clone of the Merlot variety, igniting the start of true glorification of this typically Bordeaux-style grape.
In 1999 the family began to cultivate land in neighboring Umbria, fostering the craft of Aleatico and Sagrantino di Montefalco. Over thirty years have passed since the creation of Falesco, forward momentum the certain guiding light as quality and creativity combined.
Dominga, Marta and Enrica are working to create wines that are truly international, but with a heady dedication to terroir. Armed with an agronomy degree, Dominga is ready to talk technical, though what she really brings to the conversation is a wise and educated passion to sink her wines into the hearts of drinkers.
A shift happened, according to Dominga, in 2010. When Falesco wines (as well as others in the region) created a vintage that carried itself with body and alcohol but dressed in the elegance of fruit, flower and acid. Freshness prevailed. This was a pivotal time when the family realized they could offer the world a truly international wine with no boundaries. Their flagship wine, Montiano, was treated to an artistic label revision, with a fresh focus on a simple red door, the Falesco door, open to the world. It was, and still is, a high-quality, delicious, world-class bottle of wine, a door-opener indeed.
Around the same time Falesco released the Tellus line. 200 customers and friends were invited to a thoughtfully curated event in Rome at Castel Sant’Angelo to taste the Tellus wines (Merlot, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay – all international varietals). Everyone was split into groups and each group was met by an artist that had been commissioned to turn their impressions of each wine into a label design. This all happened in view of Saint Peter’s Basilica. As Dominga describes, “the artists transferred emotion” into art that is now a fixture on each Tellus bottle. Of this experience, Dominga says,
“If you want to leave something more behind you, you have to create something more.”
Dominga believes that while there is some definition in the DNA of both people and wine, the room for play and creation often supersedes fixed function. Parents of multiple children know this to be true, evident in the way our children learn, prefer, behave and experience the world. In this space of fluidity we take in our surroundings and transfer our energy onto them, generating constant outcomes of the creative process. Here is where Dominga finds her relevancy; as the second generation of her family business she and her cousins are emerging as creative gatekeepers…not only admitting the world into the Falesco door but letting Falesco out, drop by drop, into a landscape of connection and understanding.
The first generation of Cotarellas are men, founding fathers Renzo and Riccardo. They realized the dream of revitalizing vineyards, establishing Lazio and Umbria as the nurturing ground for their wines. They also raised the flag for Merlot in their area, steadfast and proud of what Merlot DNA becomes when grown in their terroir, under their guidance.
The second generation of Cotarellas are women, Dominga, Marta and Enrica. Emboldened by shape-shifting roles (Dominga herself is trained in agronomy, but functions in marketing), a legacy of excellence and an eagerness to evolve. In this phase they’ve taken all that their fathers have done and multiplied the energy in a front-facing manner.
The third generation are boys, too young to work but Dominga makes efforts to “share her work with her children”. Of this practice she admits that mothers are often dancing on several stages, keeping the show moving with a smile. She travels, she works hard – to balance this, she lets them in. She remembers having a constant loving relationship with her father, but until she became an adult, she didn’t participate in his work. It is this gap in collaboration that she fills now, by smoothing any hard lines between family and work – an achievement that mothers worldwide wish to gain in their lives.
No one likes to compare wine, but in fact, everyone does it. With a disclaimer we admit that comparison isn’t necessary but in the same breath, our minds need this frame of relativity to understand what we are tasting. Our senses, it seem, can’t be left alone by memory and experience.
The Cotarella family makes Merlot – is known for it. Riccardo Cotarella has been nicknamed Mr. Merlot. But has Bordeaux claimed Merlot for itself? Is the world more comfortable with that? Dominga is unafraid to put her wines next to Bordeaux bottles, as she did in 2007 at a blind-tasting in Milano when she put Montiano up against a Château Pétrus. And later, when she took 100 people to the Médoc to taste their wines and toast a Montiano on the trip home. To her, this is not about comparison, however. It is about revealing the potential of the varietal. She admits that the local people were nervous about Falesco’s introduction of Merlot into their vineyards. At the time they were called crazy and were encouraged to stick to indigenous varietals, but they found that their terroir of clay soil nurtured the precocious Merlot. Dominga shares, “Father considers [Merlot] his son.”.
Dominga’s grandmother made a killer liver paté. So there’s always that pairing. Umbrian chicken. Pasta with local veggies. Pasta with Pecorino cheese, black pepper and pasta water. All with local olive oil. Not butter…the landscape is much more generous for olive cultivation than livestock grazing, so EVOO it is. Roman cuisine is common here, so let the restaurants of the city help guide the pairings — that sounds like great fun.
Vitiano Bianco Umbria IGP 2015: This wine comes from their modern, innovative and affordable Vitiano line. Of the Bianco, Dominga says it is “historical and traditional, with a classical soul”. This wine is cultivated in partnership with a local university where Renzo teaches and students from all of the world participate in the harvest. Made of Verdicchio at 50% and Vermentino at 50%, this wine is gorgeously fresh and clean, spot-on acidity. Marry with grilled shrimp. $12
Vitiano Rosato Umbria IGP 2016: This beautiful wine is a blend of 30% Sangiovese, 30% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Aleatico. Aleatico is an indigenous varietal that has strong mineral elements, doused in rose and strawberry. Falesco has established an ideal terroir for this varietal, and Dominga shares that it is included to “represent the place and maintain identity of terroir“. The color in the bottle is jewel-toned, but in the glass a brilliant translucence dazzles. Fresh! Great with white pizza on the grill. $12
Tellus Chardonnay Umbria IGP 2015: The pride of the second generation of the Cotarella family, the Teullus Chardonnay is fully fresh, soaked in delicious acid. I don’t always reach for Chardonnay after a long hot day, but just last night my hubby and I drank this outside on a humid night. Delicious chilled with no need for food, but I keep thinking about a summer herb chicken on the grill for this wine grown in pebbly soil in the heart of Umbria. $16
Montiano Merlot Lazio IGP 2013: Mentioned above, this wine stands as a guidepost for the Falesco line. “The grapes come from an 88-acre, single vineyard Montiano parcel located in Montefiascone, Lazio. The cool breezes from the Tyrrhenian Sea temper the dry, warm climate. Located at 1,155 feet above sea level with a south/southwest exposure, the vineyard’s well-draining, mineral-rich volcanic soils produce a wine that is deeply concentrated and structured.” Sounds like heaven to me. Tastes like it too. Built with structure, balanced with acids. Soft tannins and spice on the finish. I’m thinking a stuffed burger, toasted bun. $40
Tellus Merlot Umbria IGP 2013: I’ve chosen to write about Falesco wines as “fresh” and this Merlot has left me uttering this word about the house. Ask my hubby, who has tasted this wine several times now, under my urging. “The Merlot grapes are sourced from the heart of Umbria, Montecchio, in a 100-acre vineyard with a southeast exposure. Located at 990 feet above sea level, the vineyard’s limestone and clay soils produce a rich, complex and intense Merlot.” I very much loved this food-friendly wine, with balsamic florals and touches of fruit and herbs. A mesmerizing example of the potential of Merlot. The best $16 you’ll spend this summer. Get out the smoker. Or don’t. It’s delicious on it’s own.
Curiosity and Knowledge
Many people share that learning about Italian wines is a lifelong process – a statement with which I agree. In our conversation, Dominga mentioned that she is always studying, and that we must always “compare ourselves to those who know more” in order to grow. Grow in curiosity and knowledge…always finding the next question, the doorway to our future selves. As a writer, I know this to be the deepest truth to finding expansion, and in this shared value I found connection with Dominga.
Italian Food, Wine and Travel
We’re at the start of summer and the grills are fired up, time is being shared with friends including good food and of course good wine. Our Italian Food, Wine & Travel group this month is featuring summer Italian red and white wines.
Here is a preview into what our group will be sharing with you this Saturday July 1st. You can chat with us live on Twitter this Saturday at 10 am central at #ItalianFWT. We look forward to seeing you then!
- Gwendolyn of Art Predator will be sharing “Our New Favorite Summer Italian Wine: Lambrusco!”
- Camilla of Culinary Adventures with Camilla will be sharing “Quick Summer Dinner: Salumi, Formaggi, e Amarone”
- Hera at L’occasion will feature Falesco for their “Fresh Wines from Umbria and Lazio”
- Lauren at Swirling Dervish will be sharing “Verdicchio and Vermentino – Italian White Wines Perfect for Summer”
- Jen, our host this month and author of of Vino Travels, will be sharing “Italian Red Wines to Enjoy in the Summer”