In this region, grapevines were already being cultivated in the centuries before the birth of Rome (753 AD) even if, at the time, sheep farming was dominant and wine was used mostly to make offerings to Jove and for holy sacrifices. In the time of Romulus and Remus, wine began to be used by some of the various tribes. On the volcanic hills of the Castelli Romani, grapevines, along with olives, found their ideal habitat and are remembered by the poets Tibullus, Horace and Catullus in their poems and in the Naturalis Historia of Pliny the Elder.
But in this case it was little-appreciated wine, fruit of cultivation and winemaking carried out in a rudimentary way. It is not until the High Middle Ages, in the twelfth century, that the region of Lazio began to elaborate a culture of vine growing and winemaking. Only in 1406, in the times of Pope Gregory XII, were the norms which govern the production of wine codified in the Statuti dell’Agricoltura (Statutes of Agriculture).
Vine growing and winemaking had alternating phases in Lazio. They had a decided renewal and surge of innovations when the Piedmontese took Rome (1871).
The following describes some of the most important wines of the region divided by area, which give rise to events of a historic and mythological nature, given the size and importance of Rome over the centuries.
ALTEATICO DI GRADOLI
Gradoli is the name of the town situated on a rocky plateau five hundred metres high, dominated by the Farnese Palace which once belonged to Pope Paul III. This exquisite wine is produced there, a wine which was refused by frugal Popes such as Innocent III and Adrian IV, but was the joy of connoisseur Popes such as Martin IV and Benedict X.
The zone of production includes a few towns in the Province of Viterbo, the main one of which is in fact Gradoli, with three types of wine.
The Aleatico di Gradoli has a garnet red colour with violet tones, a delicately spiced, distinctive aroma accompanied by a fruity, zesty, soft, velvety, sweet flavour. It has a minimum alcohol content of 12 percent.
The liqueur wine has a more or less intense garnet red colour, sometimes with violet reflections, a spiced, delicate, distinctive aroma and a full, sweet, harmonious, pleasing flavour. It has a minimum alcohol content of 17.5 percent.
The liqueur wine riserva version, with the same minimum alcohol content, has a more or less intense garnet red colour, sometimes tending towards orange with ageing. It has a spiced aroma, distinctive of ageing in oak casks, with a full, sweet, more or less tannic, harmonious, pleasing flavour.
In the time of the Romans, Bianco Capena wine was called Bianco Feronia, taken from the nymph of the same name, who offered herself in ritual sacrifices.
The zone of production has an ancient vine-growing tradition, so much so that Horace and Virgil glorified the prosperous vineyards of Capena, devoted not only to growing grapes but also to growing olives, grains and flowers. Cicero did not hesitate to declare, “If you want to see fertile vineyards, go to Capena.”
Every year Capena celebrates the October “grape-harvest” festival, in honour of these grapes, still beautiful and golden as in ancient times.
The Bianco Capena has a more or less intense straw yellow colour, a lightly spiced, delicate, distinctive and pleasing aroma and a dry, slightly sweetish, pleasing flavour. It has a minimum alcohol content of 11 percent. The better variety earns the “superiore” label. It is a delicate wine, to be consumed in the first year of production.
The name Castelli Romani denotes the fourteen major centres on the Alban Hills south-east of Rome. It is an area with volcanic origins, which dates back to the Quaternary period. The hills are grouped together and arranged in a semi-circle. The high altitudes of over 600 metres are rich with lush vegetation while the lower altitudes are highly cultivated with olive groves and, above all, vineyards. It is from these vineyards that the famous white wines bearing the Castelli Romani label are produced.
The vines contributing the grapes that produce these wines are various. From them is produced the white wine that has a more or less straw-yellow colour and a fruity, intense aroma reminiscent of the must-laden vino novello variety. This wine has a zesty, harmonious, dry, sometimes sparkling and/or sweetish flavour. It has a minimum alcohol content of 10.5 percent. The rosé, which has the same minimum alcohol content, has a more or less intense rose colour, sometimes with ruby red tones. It has a fruity, vinous aroma and a zesty, harmonious, dry, sometimes sparkling and/or sweetish flavour. The red variety has a minimum alcohol content of 11 percent and a more or less intense ruby red colour. It has a vinous, lingering, distinctive, fruity aroma in the vino novello variety. The taste is zesty, harmonious, dry, round, sometimes sparkling and or sweetish, lively and fragrant in the vino novello variety.
One of the greatest cities of Maritime Etruria was ancient Cere, today called Cerveteri. It dates back to the seventh century BC. Thanks to the industriousness and enterprise of its inhabitants, it reached a high degree of power and riches; it participated in the battle for the defence of the Etruscan trade routes and for predominance on the Thyrreanean Sea. It fought alongside the Carthaginians against the Greeks with its own fleet. The wines produced in the area, which are an important part of the local economy, were exported in amphorae sealed with plaster and oil soaked pads. Today, after many centuries, the tradition of holding a grape festival on the last Sunday of August is still alive, with a rich program of events that attract crowds of tourists.
The zone of production includes a limited number of towns in the provinces of Rome and Viterbo, with its centre in Cerveteri, which gives its name to seven wines.
The dry white has a more or less intense straw yellow colour. It has a vinous, pleasing, delicate aroma and a dry, full, harmonious flavour. It has a minimum alcohol content of 11 percent.
The “spumante” variety has the same minimum alcohol content. It has a straw yellow colour, a pleasing, delicate aroma and a sparkling, vinous, soft, sometimes sweetish flavour with a lively, evanescent froth.
The “amabile” variety has the same minimum alcohol content. It has a fruity, pleasing aroma and a delicate, sweet flavour.
The rosé has the same minimum alcohol content, a more or less intense rose colour, a pleasing, fruity aroma and a delicate, harmonious flavour.
The dry red has a more or less intense ruby red colour, a vinous aroma and a dry, rich, harmonious, perfectly bodied flavour. It has a minimum alcohol content of 11.5 percent.
The vino novello variety has a more or less intense red colour. It has a vinous, lightly spiced aroma and a fruity, vinous, harmonious, velvety flavour, with a minimum alcohol content of 11 percent.
The sweet variety has the same minimum alcohol content but a more intense colour. It has a vinous, pleasing aroma and a sweet, vinous, velvety flavour.
COLLI ETRUSCHI VITERBESI
Fourteen types of wine are produced under this label in the numerous towns of the province of Viterbo, which has the same capital at the centre of its zone of production. The city has almost entirely preserved its original medieval appearance, of which there are some outstanding monuments. These include the papal palace from the thirteenth century, the romantic-style cathedral and the churches of San Francesco and Santa Maria della Verità.
It was an Etruscan centre, then a Roman colony called “castrum Viterbi” in the eighth century. It has been a papal residence more than once and seat of many councils.
The Colli Etruschi Viterbesi wines are produced from approximately ten vines grown in the delimited area. They have various minimum alcohol contents: 10 percent for the white, rosé and red, 11 percent for all the other types, with the exception of the raisin wine, which has a minimum alcohol content of 15.5 percent.
The white, dry or sweet, has a more or less intense straw yellow colour and a delicate, distinctive aroma. It has a dry or sweet flavour, harmonious and distinctive. The Procanico has a light straw yellow colour and a distinctive, delicate, pleasing aroma. It has a dry, zesty, balanced flavour. The Grechetto has a colour which varies from a more or less intense straw yellow to golden. It has a slightly vinous, delicate, distinctive aroma and a dry, velvety, fruity, distinctive flavour, sometimes with a slightly bitterish aftertaste.
The Rosetto, dry or sweet, has a straw yellow colour, more or less intense. It has a sharp, delicate, pleasing, delicately spiced aroma and a dry, sweet, harmonious flavour. The muscatel, dry and sweet, have the same colour. They have the fragrance and distinctive aroma of muscatel grapes.
With the same grapes left to dry, Muscatel raisin wine is made. In colour it varies from golden yellow to a more or less intense amber. The aroma is also intense, complex, with a distinctive musky fragrance. The flavour is sweet, harmonious, spiced and velvety.
The dry and sweet rosé have a more or less intense rose colour, sometimes with violet reflections. It has an intense, delicate, pleasing aroma and a dry or sweet, harmonious, balanced, sometimes zesty and lively flavour.
The Sangiovese rosé has the same colour. It has an intense, delicate, pleasing aroma and a dry or sweet, harmonious, balanced, sometimes zesty and lively flavour.
The red, both dry and sweet, has a more or less intense ruby red colour, a distinctive, fragrant, more or less fruity aroma and a dry or sweet, full, harmonious flavour.
The novello wine has a more or less intense ruby red colour with violet tones. It has a fruity and lingering aroma and a zesty, harmonious, balanced, round flavour, sometimes racey for its fragrance of fermentation.
The Grechetto has a more or less intense ruby red colour and a distinctive, fragrant, more or less fruity aroma. The flavour is dry, zesty, harmonious and lingering. The Violone has a more intense colour and a distinctive aroma with a cherry aftertaste. The flavour is dry, full, more or less tannic and harmonious.
The Canaiolo has the same intense ruby red colour, a distinctive, spiced, lingering aroma and a sweet, full-bodied, more or less tannic, harmonious flavour.
The Merlot has a ruby red colour with violet reflections. It has a pleasing slightly herbaceous aroma and a full, soft, harmonious, tannic flavour with a slightly herbaceous aftertaste.
An isolated group of volcanic hills rise up Southeast of Rome, with their slopes covered in flourishing vineyards. The centres lying along the slopes and on the peaks are mistakenly called Castelli Romani. The real castles should be others, that is Rocca Priora, Montecompatri and Colonna.
We are dealing with areas steeped in the ancient vocation of vine growing, rich in tradition and history, with wines that have been famous since ancient times. Cardinal Richelieu made both the white and the red varieties famous in France, considering the red, however, to be healthier than the white. Pope Paul III, in his summer stay in the area of Frascati, preferred it to other wines at the table. Pope Leo III also showed this marked preference.
Albano, a short distance from Rome, is among the oldest cities in the Lazio region, rich in historic events. Its nearness to the Eternal City helped the products of these vineyards to become well known among famous people, from whom the wines received keen appreciation.
Colli Albani has a colour which goes from straw yellow to deep yellow, a vinous, delicate aroma and a dry or sweet, soft flavour, distinctively fruity. It has a minimum alcohol content of 10.5 percent.
“Superiore,” “spumante” and “novello” varieties are also produced.
The ancient city of Cori is famous for its history and for three products which, since ancient times, have characterised it: black olives, oil and, red and white wines. The most interesting monuments are the Roman and medieval remains surrounded for the most part by Greek walls, and the temple of Hercules, built in the second century BC by two magistrates of the city.
Known since ancient times, Cori had the privilege of being remembered by Ovid, by Martial and by other poets of Imperial Rome.
The wines of Cori were served at the papal table and at the kings’ banquets, as products in which “everyone could trust.” It is a shame that the vast documentation gathering the innumerable words of praise and appreciation received by this wine over the course of centuries was lost in a fire which destroyed the municipal records of the town during the Second World War.
White Cori has more or less intense straw yellow colour. The aroma is pleasing and distinctive and the flavour delicate, dry, slightly sweet or sweet, full-bodied and harmonious. It has a minimum alcohol content of 11 percent and should be consumed within one year of production.
The red has a ruby red colour with a vinous, pleasing, distinctive, lingering aroma. It has a dry, soft, velvety, zesty flavour and a minimum alcohol content of 11.5 percent.
EST! EST! EST!!! DI MONTEFIASCONE
The fame and curious name of this Viterbo wine from the Montefiascone-Bolsena zone dates back to the beginning of the twelfth century. The episode, considered by some to be only a legend, has one of Augusta’s prelates in the retinue of Henry V as its protagonist, who brought a certain Giovanni Defuk (or perhaps de Fugger or Fuk), a great wine lover, to Rome for the coronation of the Emperor. He had given his squire, Martin, an experienced connoisseur of wines, the chore of preceding him on his journey. He was to evaluate the wines he tasted along the road, with the job of signalling on the door of the public house “Est” (it is) if the wine he tasted were good and “Est-Est” if the wine were very good.
When he reached Montefiascone, Martin tasted such good wine that he wrote “Est-Est-Est” on the door, that is “three times good.”
Above all in the next days, Defuk drank an abundance of that excellent wine, so much loved that he passed again on his return trip and never went back to Germany, his country of origin. Upon the death of Defuk, it was discovered that the town had received a bequest from him, with the condition that they remembered to pour a barrel of that excellent wine on his tomb (located in the Tempio di San Flavio) on every anniversary of his death. This practice, flavoured with pagan ritual, was discontinued by Cardinal Barbarigo.
Today Est! Est! Est! di Montefiascone has a more or less intense straw yellow colour with a delicate, distinctive, lightly spiced aroma. It has a dry or semi-dry flavour, delicate, tangy, harmonious and lingering. The minimum alcohol content is 10.5 percent. It can also be produced in a “spumante” variety.
Frascati is undoubtedly amongst the most famous wines of Lazio and one of the most prized by the Romans. It is said that in 1347 Cola di Rienzo, elected public tribune, gave instructions that one of the nostrils of Marcus Aurelius’s horse was to spout water, and the other to spout wine. For the election of Innocent X in 1644, the lions of the Campidoglio poured forth white and red wine, and the same occurred in 1670 for the election of Clement X and for other great public displays in successive periods. This bears witness to how important wine was in giving brilliance to events and to elevate them to the heights of festivity.
But the origins of the Frascati dates back to an age even more remote than the splendours of the Roman Empire, and it remains today one of the most famous Italian white wines available.
It has enjoyed the favour of popes, kings and poets. Pope Gregory XVI never missed a day in drinking his “quartarolo scarso” (meagre quarter litre). In 1823 the Queen of England, during her journey to Rome, was so enthusiastic about this wine that she wanted it for her own court. Goethe called it “paradise.”
Frascati has a more or less intense straw yellow colour. It has a vinous aroma with a distinctive, delicate fragrance. The flavour is zesty, soft, delicate and velvety. With a variation in the residual sugars, various different types are produced: “sec,” “asciutto,” “amabile” and “canellino” (sweet). The minimum alcohol content is 11 percent.
A “superiore” type is also produced.
The novello wine has a more or less intense straw yellow colour. The aroma is vinous, intense and fruity, reminiscent of pressed grapes. It has a zesty, soft, slightly acidulous flavour, sometimes lively, with a minimum alcohol content of 10.5 percent.
The spumante stands out for its lively froth, its subtle and lingering perlage and its more or less intense straw yellow colour. It has a vinous, etheric, harmonious aroma and a lively, harmonious flavour. It has a minimum alcohol content of 11.5.
According to some historical sources Velletri was founded by the Volscians in 338 BC. It was their capital city, called “Velester,” home of the mythic warrior Camilla, daughter of Metabo, educated in war and the hunt by Diana. In book VIII of the Aeneid, Virgil recounts how she fell under the lance of for having been allied with the Latini.
From the same uncertain historical sources, it seems that the Velletri was the birthplace of Emperor Augustus and the good wine produced in the area of the same name helped to temper the sharp personality of the great Caesar.
In successive ages, it seems that one pope, Gregory XVI, carried his preference for the wines of Velletri to the point of abusing them.
The Velletri label includes two wines.
The white has a more or less intense straw yellow colour. The aroma is vinous, pleasing and delicate. The flavour is dry or sweetish or sweet, full bodied, harmonious and velvety. It has a minimum alcohol content of 11 percent, and for the “superiore” type of 11.5 percent. It can be fully appreciated when young, not past its first year of ageing. It is also produced in a spumante variety.
The red has a more or less intense ruby red colour, with a tendency toward garnet. The “riserva” type has vinous, intense aroma and an etheric fragrance when aged. The flavour is dry, sweetish, velvety, harmonious and perfectly tannic. It has a minimum alcohol content of 11.5 percent, and 12.5 percent in the “riserva” type.