Wines from Rome

Hello, fellow wine-lovers! With this week’s installment of the Wednesday Wines Series, we will be completing the segment on the wines of southern Italy. We have tasted the vino of Sicily, Sardegna, Calabria, Basilicata, Puglia, Campania, Molise, Abruzzo, and today we conclude the first part of this 20-region series with the wines of Lazio, Italy’s central region, and home to la capitale – Rome.

Lazio’s rolling countryside, blessed by ample sunshine on fertile volcanic soils, appears naturally suited to the production of white wines based on various types of Malvasia and Trebbiano grapes that flourish in the area.

There are five provinces in Lazio, each of which has a long and varied wine tradition. Wine production has taken place here since ancient times. While the wines the Romans were drinking 2,000 years ago were quite different from those we drink today, by the middle ages the hills around Rome—the Castelli Romani—were already famous for their white wines made on its rich volcanic soils of the region. These were traditionally abboccato, pleasingly soft, though not so sweet as to overwhelm the flavor of food. They were easy, everyday wines not designed to last long or travel far. Not quality wines, essentially, but nonetheless delightful.

Fortunately the tide seems to have turned, and recognition has finally come to the area, which in May 2008 received its first DOCG rating. DOCG stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (Guaranteed Origin Controlled Denomination) and is given to wines made with certain restrictions including lower allowable yields and more restricted areas of production. The coveted DOCG rating was awarded to Cesanese del Piglio and Cesanese del Piglio Superiore. This long-awaited honor will likely smooth the process of bringing back recognition to wines from Lazio.

Rome’s region is naturally linked to white wine, from Frascati and Marino to the other golden-hued easy bianchi of the Castelli Romani area, as well as to the fabled Est! Est!! Est!!! from the northern Lazio town of Montefiascone (a town whose appropriate name is the coupling of the Italian words ’hill of the large flask’). Let’s take a closer look.

Frascati DOC is restricted by law to volcanic soils around the small towns of Frascati, Grottaferrata, Monte Porzio Catone and Montecompatri. The wine is straw-yellow, with a flowery fragrance, a fruity, velvety palate and a young (vinoso) edge to it. The premier grapes used in Frascati wine are Malvasia di Candia, Trebbiano, Greco, Malvasia del Lazio (also known as Puntinata or ’pinpricked’), Bellone and white Bonvino.

The tradition of going to taverns in the town of Frascati dates back to the 14th century. Already in 1450, there were some 1,022 establishments serving this golden wine. Frascati’s taverns, called “Fraschette”, are places that serve the light wines of the area along with traditional cheeses, porchetta, pastas and other simple street food. These unassuming trattorie often have long communal tables where patrons sit and enjoy a glass of chilled Frascati al fresco.

Perhaps the most striking name for a wine in Lazio (or Italy, for that matter) is Est! Est!! Est!!! from Montefiascone, a town that juts up like a tooth from the northern shore of Lake Bolsena on the Via Cassia. In the year 1110, German Bishop Johann De Fugger, traveling from Augsburg to Rome, sent his faithful servant Martinus to taste wines in every village before he arrived. The agreement was that Martinus had to scout and chalk up on the door of every cantina, tavern and hostel (or small vineyard) “Est!” (Latin for, “there is!”) if they stocked good wine, and “Est! Est!” if there was very good wine – “There is! There is!” Happening upon the lake town, Martinus was so enthusiastic about the local wine that it got thrice the accolade. Bishop Fugger never made it to Rome.

Est!Est!Est! is best consumed when young (within a year of the vintage) and goes well with light foods. It is made with Trebbiano and Malvasia grapes and is a light wine, yellow in color and very fresh.

Towns all over the Castelli Romani area serve their own variation on what is a central simple theme – simple, light white wines. The immediacy of these laziali wines is in no way a negative attribute, as evidenced by the established world market for Frascati and Marino and their less publicized but worthy neighbors. Examples to try include Marino DOC, Colli Albani DOC, Genzano DOC, Velletri DOC. Those carrying a DOC label are certified as the best, although it is possible to find a good quality non-DOC wine that are simply not subject to stringent guidelines governing its production and taste. Many small producers sell wine straight from the vineyard, and this can prove a very affordable way to buy, especially in bulk.

The ancient Romans loved their whites, but Horace and his posse reserved their greatest praise for the red Falernian and Caecuban, which were wines made with ancient vines grown along the coast in southern Lazio and Campania. Although white wine accounts for an overwhelming share of Lazio’s output, several of its reds appear more convincing to connoisseurs. Even though production of red wines is very limited, the region has good red grape varieties and in good quantities such as the above-mentioned Cesanese, Sangiovese, Montepulciano and Aleatico. Lazio’s DOC reds cover an expansive territory. The reclaimed stretches of what were once the Pontine Marshes of province of Latina, for example, rear an interesting Aprilia DOC. Equally appealing are the DOC reds of Cerveteri, Cori and Velletri as well as Moscato di Terracina DOC, Circeo DOC, Colli Lanuvini DOC and Nettuno DOC.

Lazio also produces Vignanello DOC, in both white and red. Mater Matuta (named after the Roman goddess of Dawn) is an excellent red wine, made by a single local estate. It has a well-rounded taste and is ripened in barrels for a year prior to being aged a further 6-8 months in its bottle prior to distribution and sale.

And that concludes our wine tour of southern Italy! I hope that you enjoyed your virtual trip through the mezzogiorno (and, unlike Martinus, was able to make it to Rome!). But, with no time to waste, we will now begin a new voyage – with the next half of our tour taking us throughout the world-renowned wineries of northern Italy.

Are you ready? Andiamo!

Would you like to not only visit Rome but also travel out into the countryside of Frosinone, Latina, Rieti or Viterbo to visit the same vineyards that your ancestors once worked, and even find your Roman relatives still living there as well? Contact us today and find out how italyMONDO! can help you research your Italian (and romano!) family tree or create a vacation of a lifetime with a custom Heritage Tour for you and your family!

Photo Courtesy of “Daniele Muscetta” at Flickr