Rome’s region is intrinsically linked to white wine, to Frascati and Marino and the other golden-hued bianchi of the Castelli Romani, as well as to the fabled Est! Est!! Est!!! from the northern Latium town of Montefiascone.
The ancient Romans drank white wines, too, though Horace and company reserved their greatest praise for the red Falernian and Caecuban, which were grown along the coast in southern Latium and Campania. Although white wine accounts for an overwhelming share of the region’s production, certain of its red wines seem more convincing to connoisseurs.
Latium’s hills, favored by ample sunshine on fertile volcanic soils, seem to be naturally suited to the production of white wines based on various types of Malvasia and Trebbiano grapes. Rome’s wines, led by Frascati and Marino, were traditionally abboccato, pleasingly soft though not so sweet as to overwhelm the flavor of food. They were easy, everyday wines not designed to last long or travel far.
The use of low temperature processing and sterile filtration have transformed their personalities into dryer, crisper, more durable wines with a propensity to travel that has opened up commercial horizons. Still, with only occasional exceptions, the whites of Latium are pleasantly fleshy and fruity, wines that go enticingly well with a great range of foods but are not the sort to be laid away or fussed over.
Their immediacy is by no means a negative attribute, as evidenced by the established world market for Frascati, followed by Marino and less publicized but worthy neighbors such as Colli Albani, Colli Lanuvini, Castelli Romani, Velletri and Montecompatri Colonna. Though some admirers argue that the richer, stronger abboccato or cannellino versions are what Malvasia is all about, most modern consumers seem to prefer them softly dry.
Latium’s DOC reds vary in composition. Aprilia, in the reclaimed stretches of what were once the Pontine Marshes, turns out considerable quantities of Merlot and Sangiovese.
The reds of Cerveteri, Cori and Velletri are based on Montepulciano and Sangiovese. The native Cesanese makes richly flavored dry and sweet reds in the three DOC zones of the Prenestina and Ciociaria hills southeast of Rome. Aleatico makes a Port-like dessert wine on the northern shores of Lake Bolsena at Gradoli. The sweet Moscato di Terracina from the southern coast is a candidate for DOC.
Cabernet and Merlot are the stars of a number of highly praised modern reds of Latium, which prove that the fortunes of premium wine production are not confined to whites.