This summer so far has been all about one thing for us: chilled reds. Obviously, throwing a bottle of red wine into the refrigerator before you open it isn't a very novel idea. We don't know why – maybe there's just more producers making light, bright reds meant for refreshment rather than impact – but it's what we've craved more than anything else this season. And of all the reds we've chilled and chugged this summer, the one that's caught our attention more than any other is Andrea Occhipinti's "Alea Viva." This wine's got it all: joyful refreshment, serious complexity, versatility with a huge range of foods, and all at a great price.
Andrea Occhipinti – no relation to the more famous Sicilian Arianna Occhipinti – is located in Gradoli, about an hour north of Rome. Despite Rome's culinary fame, the wines from the area generally don't have much of an international reputation. But Gradoli is a fascinating place: steep vineyards composed of ancient volcanic soils overlook Lake Bolsena, the perfect conditions for creating wines with generosity and tension. Andrea fell in love with the area while studying viticulture in Rome, and as soon as he graduated purchased a few hectares there. He farms his vineyards organically, does everything by hand, and only adds a small amount of sulfur at bottling. His wines are natural, in the best way possible: refreshing, vibrant, and very much alive.
"Alea Viva" is made from Aleatico, a fascinating and rare grape unique to the region. Recent DNA analysis actually shows Aleatico to be a relative of both Muscat and Sangiovese, long used in the area to make sweet wines. Andrea Occhipinti was, in fact, the first winemaker to experiment with a dry version. The result is "Alea Viva" and it's wildly successful. On the nose, violet and rose petal tones commingle with vibrant red plum fruit and smoky, volcanic minerality. The palate on "Alea Viva" immediately calls to mind Cru Beaujolais in its structure, featherweight but bright and densely packed, with vibrant acidity and fine-grained tannins. Although we love it cold and in vast quantities, sitting with a glass for an hour and letting it warm up reveals further complexities.
We can't get enough of this stuff. This is our summer of "Alea Viva." Once you try some, we have no doubt it'll be yours too.