An article by: Levi Reiss
If you are looking for fine Italian wine and food, consider the Latium region of central Italy. You may find a bargain, and I hope that you’ll have fun on this fact-filled wine education tour.
Latium is located in the central western part of Italy on the coast of the Tyrrhenian Sea. It includes the Apennines mountains, fertile foothills and valleys. There are four groups of ancient volcanoes, each with crater lakes. This area was once the center of the world, and remains an international center of art, politics, religion, and trade. Its population is 5.2 million, making it the third most populous region of Italy.
Latium, also called Lazio, was settled by Indo-European tribes during the 2nd millennium B. C. Later it became Etruscran. When the Etruscans were driven out by the Romans, the area became impoverished and remained so for centuries.
Food abounds, you name it and it’s probably grown in the region. The region’s most special vegetable is the artichoke. It may surprise you to learn that Latium is a center of kiwi production. It is also known for seafood, fish, and shark. Meat raised here includes beef, lamb, pork, and veal. The regions most famous cheese is Mozzarella di Bufala Campana, Mozzarella made from the milk of water buffalo. According to the popular local legend, Julius Caesar sent Marc Anthony to Egypt, where he fell in love with Cleopatra and this cheese. He sent water buffalo back home and local residents have been enjoying this Mozzarella ever since. Whether or not this legend is true, Mozzarella di Bufala Campana cheese has been popular for centuries. Latium once produced Falernian, which was considered the best wine in the Classical World.
Latium’s major city is Rome, the capital of Italy. As the Italian writer Silvio Negro said, “Roma, non basta una vita,” Rome, a lifetime is not enough. Ancient Rome was a center of wine production and of amprhorae, clay wine jugs. The area still produces wine. A short Internet search revealed an 18th Century villa for rent 35 minutes from the heart of Rome, surrounded by 30 acres of vineyards and olive groves.
Latium devotes three hundred thousand acres to grapevines, it ranks 7th among the 20 Italian regions. Its total annual wine production is about 78 million gallons, also giving it a 7th place. About 16% of the wine production is red or rose’, leaving 84% for white. The region produces 25 DOC wines. DOC stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata, which may be translated as Denomination of Controlled Origin, presumably a high-quality wine. Only 6.5% of Latium wine carries the DOC designation. Latium is home to three dozen major and secondary grape varieties, half white and half red.
Widely grown international white grape varieties include Malvasia, Chardonnay, Trebbiano, and. Sauvignon Blanc. The best known strictly Italian white varieties are subvarieties of Trebbiano, the yellow Trebbiano Giallo, the green Trebbiano Verde, and Trebbiano Toscano.
Widely grown international red grape varieties include Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon. and Merlot. The best known strictly Italian red variety is Cesane. Also popular is Sangiovese, an Italian grape now found elsewhere including in California.
Before we reviewing the Latium wine and cheese that we were lucky enough to purchase at a local wine store and a local Italian food store, here are a few suggestions of what to eat with indigenous wines when touring this beautiful region.
Start with Spaghetti alla Carbonara, Spaghetti with Cream, Pancetta (Italian bacon), and Egg. Then try Luccio Brodettato alla Romana, Pike in an Egg-Lemon Sauce. For dessert indulge yourself with Pizza di Polenta e Ricotta, not a pizza, but Sweet Polenta Ricotta Cake.
OUR WINE REVIEW POLICY While we have communicated with well over a thousand Italian wine producers and merchants to help prepare these articles, our policy is clear. All wines that we taste and review are purchased at the full retail price.
Wine Reviewed Tenuta Gasperini’ Vigneti VillaFranca ‘Castelli Romani Rosso DOC 2002 13.5% alcohol about $13
This wine was produced about 20 kilometers south of Rome. It is a 50/50 blend of Sangiovese and Montepulciano, two popular Italian red varieties. I found it a bit acidic and relatively tasteless at first. I tried it with kube also called kibbe, a Middle-Eastern specialty, balls of ground rice filled with ground meat. They were cooked overnight with potatoes in a somewhat spicy tomato sauce. The wine tasted a bit of cherries and tobacco. In a meal of chicken burgers and zucchini in a bland tomato and onion sauce, the tobacco taste was stronger than previously. The marketing materials for this wine mentioned raspberry, plum jam, leather, sweet spice, and tomato leaf. When looking for them I found plum jam and leather, but not the other elements. The distributor recommends this wine with baked pasta or veal medallions in a red wine sauce. Maybe.
Pecorino Toscano is a sheep’s milk cheese made in Tuscany and neighboring Umbria for thousands of years. It is also produced in Latium. Soft Pecorino Toscano is white with a tinge of yellow, while semi-hard Pecorino Toscano is pale yellow. This cheese is moderately strong smelling and has a complex nutty flavor. I tried this wine with sliced soft Pecorino Toscano on toast with a somewhat spicy Moroccan tomato and pimento based dip. The flavors blended well, and the wine wasn’t thin. However, in the final analysis I would not buy this wine again. It seems overpriced and cannot compete with many other wines that I have tasted in this series.
About the Author
Levi Reiss has authored or co-authored ten books on computers and the Internet, but to be honest, he would rather just drink fine Italian or other wine, accompanied by the right foods. He teaches classes in computers at an Ontario French-language community college. His wine website is www.theworldwidewine.com. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.