The people of Italy’s Abruzzo region live by a motto. Forte e gentile. Strong and kind. It’s said the revered 19th century diplomat and writer Primo Levi described the area’s beauty and the character of its people with the phrase, and from that moment the ethos was set in place.
Strong and kind. Some say strong and gentle. Whichever translation, its foundations remained firmly entrenched in the mindset of the Mitolo family when they came to Australia in the 1950s.
Today, Frank Mitolo and his family continue to celebrate their passion for everything Italian via their McLaren Vale wines, cellar door and restaurant. With them all inextricably linked, he adheres to another turn of phrase that surrounds his extended family, friends and business. “It’s all about laughter and love,” Frank says. “There’s just something about our wine and food that encourages both.”
It’s a way of life. Food and wine. Wine and food. Laughter and love. Strength and kindness. It’s as if they all come together at the cellar door restaurant, The Little Wolf Osteria, with celebrated Adelaide chef Vincenzo La Montagna at the helm. The menu is all about traditional Italian fare with striking modern style, yet one benchmark always remains in the kitchen. “It’s all comes back to family,” Vincenzo says. “We said at the start, the food still has to be what our dads would eat.” That of course goes for the wine as well. Since establishing close ties in 1999 with their main McLaren Vale growers, the Lopresti family, the Italian heartbeat within the Mitolo wine portfolio, has only become stronger.
Father Don Lopresti and sons Joe and Michael nurture 200 acres of vines in the southern corner of McLaren Vale, just 4km from Gulf St Vincent, near the village of Aldinga and nestled close to the Willunga foothills – the location benefits from cooling gulf breezes that temper the warmth of the ripening season.
Their range of grape varieties has expanded immensely since Don took on the original block 45 years ago. In the early days it was given over to chardonnay, cabernet and shiraz, and in the past 20 years newer varieties, many of them Italian in origin, have found a home in further plantings including a recently acquired foothills vineyard. The list, encouraged by Frank Mitolo and winemaker/ business partner Ben Glaetzer, now brims with names such as sangiovese, sagrantino, vermentino, nero d’avola, montepulciano, and more recently pecorino and glera.
Don says in his heart of hearts he knew the Italian varieties would grow here. But son Joe reckons it’s their experience on the ground that’s been the key to their success. “Dad’s way was all about touch and feel, and that’s the way we first learned. We know our vineyards – we’ve planted everything here,” Joe says. “And being Italian wasn’t the only factor – the varieties had to work here.” There was another thing, Joe adds: “If we didn’t like the wine, we didn’t have the passion for it either!”
Ah. Another ethos to live by. And one that also drives the winemaking by Ben Glaetzer, who has been with the Mitolo crew from its 1999 beginnings. The first wine he and Frank made together was the G.A.M. shiraz, named after the initials of Frank ‘s children. Twenty years on, while shiraz remains the McLaren Vale blue chip style that binds them both to the Lopestris, the range has evolved as the varieties succeeded in their vineyards. “Why?” Ben answers. “Because it’s the style of wine we like to drink. “We still love our shiraz and cabernet but we also have moved into lighter wines, and Mediterranean styles,” Ben says. “From a winemaking point of view, I think about the food as well. That relationship is important. “I’m a winemaker. Frank is Italian. It all works well.”
The relationships forged between Frank, Ben and the Lopestris, in the vineyards, their children playing together, and over family meals, have only strengthened over time as well. The Mitolo and Lopestri dads knew each other and clicked. The families grew together as their businesses grew. The first handshake is now a binding trust. “It goes way past business,” Don Lopestri says. “We are all family now.”
Mitolo Jester Vermentino 2020
McLaren Vale 92 points $25
The Mitolo/Glaetzer/Lopestri team is a pioneer of vermentino, this now their 11th release. The variety loves the southern McLaren Vale, thrives in the heat in summer, loves the cool Gulf breezes in the afternoon, retains its vital grape acidity and freshness, and comes up all zingy and tangy with grapefruit and tropical fruit salad flavours in abundance as well as delivering a smart, pithy, chalky mouthfeel to finish. Terrific with cheese and seafood.
Mitolo Jester Sangiovese Rose 2020
McLaren Vale 93 points $25
Mitolo’s Italian connection with the Lopestri family vineyards has yielded this rose from sangiovese, which is only logical given both families’ cultural roots. (As an aside here, I’m a firm fan of the variety in rose form.)
Here it’s delicately pale, exudes a freshly picked, not too ripe strawberry and white flesh cherry set of aromas, with a neatly balanced, bright and fresh palate, everything in its place both in flavour and freshness. (I have used three “fresh” descriptors there – mmm fair call!)
Mitolo Cinquecento Sangiovese 2019
McLaren Vale 94 points $39
From one row of the Lopestri family vineyard tucked into the southern Vales near Aldinga, just inland from the Gulf where beautiful Port Willunga attracts the chic to play. That one row, by the way, is 500 metres long, hence the cinquecento name!
I’d walk 500 miles for this any day; it has all the sangiovese hallmarks – a slightly smoky/charry note like grilled vegetable tart, and a delicate dried rose petal top note, not too perfumed and tempered by a sniff of leather. All this weaves a savoury layer into a subtle cherry fruited palate with trademark black tea tannins through to the finish. With all that going on, the bite of fruit – mid tart, mid sweet – adds a lift of mouth-enriching energy. No wonder this wine won the trophy for best Mediterranean Variety at the 2020 McLaren Vale Wine Show. It screams to be at a table groaning with big Italian plates.
Mitolo Ourea Sagrantino 2019
McLaren Vale 94 points $39
Prepare yourself. This variety has a big reputation – reputedly carrying more anti-oxidant polyphenols than any other grape. That tends to translate into a mouthful of bold savoury elements – think strong black tea, licorice coated in grainy dark chocolate, black olive tapenade, all with a good grind of black pepper. Mix all that up in a big bowl and you’ll begin to get the picture of the flavour notes that sit over the rustic, chewy tannins driving this wine all the way home. Quite a heavyweight yet with loads of comforting personality – you’ll need big braised meat or a Bistecca to reveal an even fuller performance.
Mitolo 7th Son Grenache Shiraz Sagrantino 2018
McLaren Vale 92 points $39
While you’ll mostly see GSM as the Med-blend from this region, of course there’s no surprise that this comes with an Italian twist: 62% Blewitt Springs grenache, 32% Vales White Valley (Southern Vales) shiraz, and 6% sagrantino. In other words, a fuller bodied variation on the usual combo, the sagrantino bringing some muscle along with the wine’s abundance of rich fruit and tannin feel. A big red wine lover’s style of grenache blend.
Mitolo G.A.M. Shiraz 2017
McLaren Vale 95 points $59
While the Italian varietal focus gains attention in the Mitolo portfolio, let’s take a moment to go back to where it all started, with this shiraz, the first wine Frank Mitolo and winemaker Ben Glaetzer made together – the initials referring to Frank’s children. This comes from a cooler vintage and as a classic McLaren Vale shiraz has reaped its benefits. While its oak maturation shows, woven into its spice and floral/mint notes to begin, the full-bodied shiraz structure that follows is matched by bold and powerful fruit. A complete, concentrated flavourful shiraz that will satisfy big red wine lovers on many levels.
This 100% independent content was published with support from the winery.