The tradition of vino cotto (“cooked wine”) goes at least a thousand years back. Pliny the Elder mentioned it in his writings in the 1st century as one of the most sought-after drinks of the time. Nowadays, few people know what it is. Historians say that vino cotto was born from the need to preserve wine made from low quality grapes. The best of harvest went to the landowner and hard-working farmers were often left with small sour grapes. Cooking them reduced the volume but increased the sugar concentration, which meant the wine could be stored for longer periods. From late spring to November, when normal wine turned sour (no technology to extend its shelf life existed back then) farmers drank vino cotto until the next harvest. Le Marche and Abruzzo are the two regions where vino cotto became part of the local cuisine. For centuries, a glass of vino cotto and a slice of bread were symbols of a welcoming home.
In Abruzzo, the area around Roccamontepiano is where the tradition is still alive. Pressed grapes are cooked slowly in a large copper pot (lu callare) on an open fire. In old days, a piece of iron chain covered with a terracotta plate was placed in the bottom of the pot to make sure that the wine doesn’t taste of metal. After hours of slow cooking, when the liquid is reduced by at least a half, it is left to cool down. Later, an equal quantity of fresh grape must is added and the blend is transferred small wooden barrels to ferment. One of the producers told me that in his family, every year, before going to the Christmas mass, a sip of vino cotto is poured for everyone, including little kids. His grandfather did it, as well as his father and he continues the ritual. For many centuries, locals have made a special barrel of vino cotto when a son is born in the family. It is left to age until the boy’s wedding day.
It was impossible to buy a bottle of this ancient wine until a few years ago. Families made the brew for home consumption but were not allowed to sell it. Then a few local enthusiasts in Roccamontepiano got together, applied for funding to buy industrial equipment and opened a small production centre. Now they produce limited quantities of exquisite vino cotto aged for five, eight or 15 years. Although the wine is cooked in a steel tank in less than 30 minutes it is still delicious. Every year they also organise a festival of vino cotto with tastings and demonstrations of how the wine was cooked in old days.
In Roccamontepiano, they say that the best cure for a cold is a small glass of hot vino cotto before bed. I love vino cotto with hot roasted chestnuts or almond biscotti dipped in it. Dark brown with an amber glow, the drink is rich without being too heavy. The dry fruit notes are rounded with a warm hint of wood and more than a thousand years of tradition.
Vino cotto is often confused with vin brulé and mosto cotto. What is the difference between them? Vin brulé is a hot spiced wine, like mulled wine. Mosto cotto is cooked reduced grape juice with must that is used for baking in Abruzzo.
You can buy vino cotto in the Centro di Produzione Vino Cotto, C.da Terranova, Roccamontepiano (CH).
Follow the Associazione Produttori Vino Cotto d’Abruzzo on Facebook here
Photos by Associazione Produttori Vino Cotto d’Abruzzo.