I wrote this article for Altacucina’s website. It was published last week and I thought I would share it.
The region of Lazio is not the most well known of Italy’s 20 regions. In fact, many people have only heard of Lazio because of its capital city, Rome. This region which lies in the center of Italy, bordered by Tuscany, Umbria, Abruzzo, Molise and Campania actually has five main provinces. Most of the wines made in Lazio are made in the area near Rome, known as the Castelli Romani. However, much new and innovative activity is taking place in the lesser known provinces. One area that has been getting a lot of press lately is the area around the city of Frosinone. This is because – Cesanese del Piglio – a wine from this area just received the coveted DOCG rating or the honor of being a denominazione di origine controllata and garantita wine. Frosinone is an area between Rome and Naples. The area specifically where Cesanese is grown is known as the Ciociaria. Perhaps this word is not too unfamiliar as it is the name of a very famous movie from the 1960s for which Sophie Loren won an Oscar, La Ciociara (Two Women). There are many beautiful and historic cities to visit here including Anagni formerly a papal city, Alatri, Ferentino, Piglio, Serrone and Veroli. Cesanese del Piglio reigns supreme in terms of the red wines in this area. It is a full bodied wine with red fruit aromas, spicy notes and some deep earthy, animal skin flavors. In certain incarnations it reminds me of a lighter primitivo, a well known wine from the Apulia region. Passerina, a white grape is also grown in this part of Lazio. The winery Casale della Ioria located in Arcuto is very well known for both its Cesanese del Piglio and its Passerina del Frusinate IGT.
Another province in Lazio where there is ferment in the wine business is the area around the city of Viterbo. Viterbo is in the Northern part of Lazio, halfway between Rome and the Tuscan city of Grosseto. One of the most famous wines to come out of the Lazio region is the wine known as Est! Est !! Est !!! from Montefiascone. Falesco, a well known producer, makes this delicious white wine from Trebbiano, Roscetto and Malvasia grapes on the same hillside where it was discovered. Legend has it that Henry V of Germany was traveling to Rome with his army to receive the crown as the Holy Roman Emperor from Pope Pasquale II in 1111 together with a German Abbot by the name of Johannes Defuk who was supposed to be a great wine aficionado. The abbot would send ahead one of his people, a certain Martin, to try out the different wines. Martin would then mark the doorways of the inns where he had tasted good wines. In this way, Defuk would know where to stop. The code was to write the word est if it was a good place to stop. As the story goes, in Montefiascone, Martin was so impressed with the local wines that he wrote EST! EST!! EST!!! The legend goes on to say that the Defuk stopped for three days in Montefiascone on the way to the Papal palace. He returned on his way home to Germany. It is said that Defuk remained in Montefiascone for the rest of his life and eventually died from drinking too much wine. On his tombstone in the local Benedictine church of San Flaviano, Martin is said to have had written “herein lies my Master who died from drinking too much Est.”
Another interesting wine from this area is the Aleatico di Gradoli. This is a dessert wine made from the red aleatico grape. It hails from the region around the Lake of Bolsena. Occhipinti is a producer to watch for this dessert wine as is Falesco.
Sergio Mottura, a producer from this area must also be mentioned in any piece on the wines from Viterbo. He is famed for his interpretation of the Grechetto grape in his Grechetto Latour a Civitella for which he won the highest honor – a Tre Bicchieri award – earlier this year from the Gambero Rosso, an Italian wine guide which is considered by many to be the definitive guide to Italian wines. Mottura’s wine is one of only two wines in Lazio and 305 in all of Italy to receive this honor. His Orvieto Secco is also very well regarded and is made from 50% Procanico, 25% Verdello and 25% Grechetto grapes. Oriveto is one of the oldest Italian white wines but it is often misunderstood. Mottura cultivates and vinifies the grapes separately and then assembles them in January before bottling.
Latina is also a province in Lazio that is making a name for itself in terms of its wines. Perhaps one of the most well known wineries from this area is a young winery called Casale Del Giglio. Started in 1969 by Berardino Santarelli, the winery has been conducting research on which grapes are best suited to the area since 1984. Many international varieties are planted such as Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot and Syrah. Another producer from Latina that has been getting his share of attention is Marco Carpineti. He is considered to be an organic wine maker and is biologically certified, a rarity in the Italian wine panorama. Carpineti makes wines using white grape varieties such as Bellone, Arciprete Bianco (a clonal variety of Bellone), Malvasia, Trebbiano and the two varieties of Greco, locally named Moro and Giallo. The red grapes are Nero Buono di Cori, Montepulciano, Cesanese and Sangiovese. Latina is also home to one of the great sweet wines of Lazio, the Moscato di Terracina. The Pandolfi brothers of Sant’Andrea make a variety of versions of the Moscato running from dry to sweet with difficult names such as Oppidum for the dry, Templum for the Amabile version and Capitolium for the Passito. All are worth trying.
Rieti is the last of the provinces of Lazio and is the least well known in terms of its wines. Rieti is often associated with products from the neighboring region of Abruzzo. One winery of note is Tenuta Santa Lucia. It has garnered some critical acclaim for its Colli della Sabina Collis Pollionis Rosso and its Collis Pollionis Bianco. The winery has 40 hectares under vine planted with Sangiovese, Montepulciano, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Alicante, Carignano, Falanghina and Malvasia.
This very interesting array of indigenous and international grape varieties in some way sums up the varied and expanding nature of the wine scene in Lazio. Some wineries are using the traditional grape varieties that have long been cultivated in Lazio while others are bringing back those that long ago fell out of favor. Others still are using international varieties and blending them with the native varieties to produce new blends. I have high hopes for the future of this region and expect to see the wines make a splash with American wine drinkers soon