Rome is one of the most popular weekend break destinations for tourists. So when buying Italian wine, which should you ask for when sitting in a Roman piazza? Italian wines can be superb but it can be complicated to understand the grape varieties and regions.
The hills to the south east of Eternal City are full of vineyards where for centuries wines have been made for the locals. The best wines are from the Castelli Romani DOC, made up of a group of 14 villages in the Colli Albani hills, just 25km from the city. These villages are where wealthy Romans have their summer homes, in fact Castel Gandolfo is where the Pope has his summer residence.
The cooling effect of the Tyrrhenian sea, 20 km to the west and the well drained volcanic well are suited to growing vines. Traditionally, this was an area for producing wine in large volumes, with little attention paid to quality, for the Roman restaurants. However, in recent years the quality of the wine has improved through lowering yields, selective grape selection, longer maceration of the juice on the skins, and fermenting in stainless steel at cooler temperatures.
Frascati has been made for more than 2000 years, making it one of the world’s oldest wines. The best white wines of Rome are labelled Frascati Superiore DOCG and made from Malvasia and Trebbiano. These are dry wines, lightly fragrant and crisp, ideal for a warm summer day. One of the most reliable producers is Cantine San Marco, where Umberto Notarnicola and his son Danilo produce consistently good Frascati Superiore DOCG. I have nice memories enjoying long Italian lunches drinking their wines in restaurantes overlooking Rome.
The most popular brand is Fontana Candida Frascati 15 Superiore DOCG, this producer also makes the notable Luna Mater Frascati Superiore DOC, made from 50% Malvasia di Candia, 30% Malvasia del Lazio, 10% Greco and 10% Bombino.
There is an area in the northern part of the Lazio region with a rather curious name; Est! Est!! Est!!! di Montefiascone. Legend has it that in the year 1111 the manservant of a German bishop would travel ahead of his master and on the doors of the inns that served quality wine he would write the word ‘Est!’. One day he reached the pretty village of Montefiascone and was so taken by the white wines wrote Este! Este!! Este!!! on the door. The Bishop was so impressed by the wines of the village that he lived there for the rest of his life.
Today the wines are made with Trebbiano and Malvasia Bianca in different styes, dry, semi dry and sweet. Goes well with a plate of pasta.
Lazio is predominantly a white wine area, however, there are some decent red wines particularly fro the Castello Romani DOC made from the indigenous Cesanese variety, which goes well with the local cuisine.
So on your next visit to Rome, drink wine like a Roman.