Introducing Lazio as a wine region is rather challenging. It simultaneously a place of huge potential and startling disappointment. Arguably one of Italy’s most misunderstood wine regions, it is certainly one of the least fashionable internationally. The prevailing perception that Lazio is merely a source of cheap white wine and little else is a fairly common one, yet to believe it is to miss out on the best the region has to offer. A new generation of winemakers, with a renewed and welcomed interest in local grape varieties, is starting to make wines worthy of discussion and attention.
Lazio, located on the the west coast of central Italy, and home to the eternal city, is a region that boasts 30 different DOC wines. Most of them are scarcely known and many barely function, but nevertheless, they all theoretically offer something slightly different for the wine lover to get stuck in to. The majority are in the south of the region, in the rolling hills just south of Rome. Here, on these ancient slopes, known as the Castelli Romani, winemaking is easy. Conditions are perfect.
The majority of wine lovers know Lazio for its famous and historically significant Frascati wine. Produced from Malavasia and Trebbiano around the town of Frascati, the wine is known for its light, easy drinking simplicity. In recent years Frascati’s reputation has suffered. Like many classic Italian white wine areas, the 1970s and 80s saw the creeping influence of big bottlers, whose push for volume over quality resulted in lakes of uninteresting wine. Much like what happened in Soave, a Superiore version of Frascati was upgraded to DOCG status in a bid to protect the image of Frascati. The decision has not yet had the impact it’s had in Soave, although Frascati Superiore benefits from strict production rules that have the creation of quality wine at their core.
White wines dominate winemaking in Lazio and the quality revolution that has happened all over Italy has cleared a path for the traditional Frascati varieties of Malvasia Bianca di Candia and Malvasia del Lazio (also known as Malvasia Puntinata) to show just how good they can be. Many are now labelled as Lazio IGP. These can be frequently found blended with Bellone, a grape we will almost certainly be hearing more about in the coming years. Trebbiano Toscano and Grechetto are also found. Few producers specify which type of Grechetto they use and so it is assumed that the majority is the more common Grechetto di Orvieto, rather than the variety from Todi in Umbria.
Since 2008, the red Cesanese grape has been on the radar of Italian wine lovers. The region’s first DOCG was awarded to Cesanese del Piglio, located in the Province of Frosinone, and benefits from the slopes of the Ernici Mountains and the Valle del Sacco and the area’s iron rich soils. A superiore and a riserva version exists and there is a growing number of producers seeking to showcase the ageing potential of Cesanse. The variety has caught the eye of producers and there’s now a real movement of people keen to put Lazio on the map with this local indigenous grape. Two different types of Cesanese have been identified - one from around the village of Affile, the other known as Cesanese Commune. It’s believed that Cesanese di Affile has the better potential for quality wine. These grapes appear in the Cesanese di Olevano Romano DOC and the Cesanese del Piglio DOCG.