‘Squisita visciolata’ might sound dodgy, but it translates as ‘exquisite cherry wine’. And a very good example of it is made by the Cardinale family. The Cardinales are a typically tight knit Italian family: hip, hilarious, gregarious – and passionate about food and wine. And while siblings Giselle, Luca and Cristiano all have day jobs, they also find the time to be artisanal producers of visciola, a cherry infused, fortified red wine tipple popular in Le Marche.
Visciolata: just saying the name sounds like you’ve drunk too much of the stuff. It’s the local hooch for ladies (men are given grappa) often handed out as a thank you by jovial restaurateurs. Polite society in days gone by referred to it as the “Wine of Angels”; farming folk called it “Witches Blood” and thought it had aphrodisiac properties. As well it might – it warms the cockles of one’s heart very nicely.
Typically, it’s homemade and people are always maddeningly vague about its production, so when I heard about the Cantine del Cardinale I speedily arranged a visit.
The Visciola cherry is a sour cherry Prunus cerasus austera and it’s difficult to find them grown commercially – the Cardinales have to source their cherries from across the region and are busy planting their own orchards to meet demand for their wine.
The Cardinale’s recipe is, in fact, a secret. Mr Cardinale senior, Giovanni, stumbled across a recipe dating from the 19th century in some family papers from his grandfather who was a market gardener. He spent the next five years refining the recipe.
Broadly speaking, visciola cherries are harvested ‘a mano’ – by hand – when they are at their ripest in late June to early July. The Cardinales then put them put immediately into demijohns with sugar and leave them to macerate gently in the sunshine for the summer. The cherry juice is then drawn off, the cherries added to red wine must and left to for six months in barrels; the sugar cherry juice is added to the barrels in March and everything is left for another six months when the wine bottled. The final product looks like port, but is drier, lighter and, of course, more cherry tasting. Less headache inducing, too.
Visciolata goes very well with chocolate – for recipe ideas and where to buy it take a look at www.supercherry.co.uk