The Wines of Lazio:
There’s Potential Gold in Those Hills
Monte Porzio Catone is a comune (municipality) in the Metropolitan City of Rome in the central Italian region Latium, located about 20 kilometres (12 mi) southeast of Rome, on the Alban Hills.
The Wine Production Zones of Lazio
There is 27 DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) and 3 DOCG areas in Lazio, some more famous, some less.
What is undeniable is that all of them are making better wine today than they were a generation ago and the progress seems likely to continue. While some areas lag behind others, even high-volume production areas are now turning out fresh, well-made wines that avoid the flaws that were once common. Historically, Lazio always made more white wine than red, and that is still the case today (the breakdown is roughly 70/30 in favour of white wines).
But red wine production is increasing steadily every year. In 2015, 56% of the white wines made in Lazio and 37% of the reds were DOC wines, but that qualification means very little in and of itself and so cannot be taken as an indicator of a region’s overall wine quality.
Proceeding north to south, the wine-producing areas of Lazio are the Viterbo and Rieti provinces in the northern part of the region (roughly 12% of Lazio’s surface under vine, according to 2015 data); Rome and its surroundings, where the once famous Castelli Romani and the up-and-coming Cori area are located (roughly 57% of Lazio’s vineyard acreage); the Frusinate area in the south-east (10%); and the southern or coastal section in the province of Latina (21%).
Of Lazio’s many DOCs and DOCGs, several stand out in importance. The northern sector includes some well-known DOCs, first and foremost that of Est! Est!! Est!!! di Montefiascone, as well as Aleatico di Gradoli (like the Est! Est!! Est!!! DOC, it is also located around the beautiful Bolsena lake, but on the lake’s northwestern shores; the zone produces unique lightly sweet, aromatic red wines that offer very good value) and the small portion of Orvieto that falls within the borders of Lazio.
The Castelli Romani is the biggest and most famous wine-producing zone of Lazio, characterized by charming little towns situated in a semicircle around Rome (and so-named because each one boasts at least one major noble residence or palace). The most famous are Frascati (Frascati Superiore and Frascati Cannellino, the latter a sweet wine, are two of Lazio’s three DOCGs), Marino and Velletri.
Although similar, the wines of these little towns and their surrounding areas differ somewhat: the wines of Frascati are renowned for their fragrance, those of Marino for their intensity and roundness, and those of Velletri for their elegance and balance (the latter is the only town more famous for red wines than whites, an anomaly of sorts in Lazio’s vinous panorama). Farther south, the city of Cori and its surroundings are especially promising: producers like Marco Carpineti and the Cincinnato co-op are making some of Italy’s most interesting and fairly priced wines.
The coastal section of Lazio is most notable for its Moscato wines (made with the local, unique Moscato di Terracina grape variety, different from Moscato Bianco or Moscato di Alessandria, the latter more commonly called Zibibbo in Italy), although some delicious easy-drinking reds are also being made. Still in the southern part of Lazio but farther east is the Frusinate area, where one DOCG, Cesanese del Piglio, and two DOCs, Cesanese d'Affile and Cesanese di Olevano Romano, are making not only the region’s best red wines but some of the most exciting in Italy. Finally, Atina, at the southernmost tip of Lazio, is where some spectacular Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines have long been made but have recently fallen on harder times.
Any return to prominence will be difficult if the average price per bottle remains as low as it is today, which makes it harder for winemaking families to invest in, and improve, their equipment and holdings.