Lazio or Latium in English is one of Italy’s 20 administrative regions. Burton Anderson (1990, p.189) describes it as being ‘eternally dominated by Rome, the ancient and modern capital of Italy, and Catholicism.’
Political geography: Capital city: Rome. Provinces: Rome (RM). | Frosinone (FR). | Latina (LT). | Rieti (RI). Viterbo (VT).
History: In Lazio, grapevines were cultivated long before the ancient Romans, notably by the Sabines, who were described by Virgil as descending from Sucus the “viti- sator”, that is, the winemaker. It was with the expansion of the Roman Empire, however, that wine became an important product in the economy and in the daily life of the people. A small town such as Pompeii had at least 70 different wine bars. Lazio wines were also included in the sixteenth century in Pope Paul III’s cellar; examples include the Moscato di Montefiascone, the Rosso di Terracina and the wine of Cerveteri. Then hard times came, and in early 1900, the only areas of wine production in Lazio remained Frosinone, Viterbo, and the Castelli Romani. However, in 1923 the Queen of England fell in love with Frascati and had it served regularly in her royal court. With such a publicity, the Castelli wines began to be produced in greater quantities and sell better than ever before.
Terroir: Roughly 54% of the Lazio territory is hilly and 26% mountainous, with the remaining 20% being flat. Lazio has a surface area of almost 50,000 hectares, but unfortunately, after the advent of phylloxera, the region turned to producing large volumes of wine rather than focusing on quality, as did Piedmont and Tuscany. Now there is greater focus on making site-specific wines showcasing the potential of indigenous grapes.
Lazio areas most suited to the cultivation of the vine are the hilly zones near the lakes: rich in volcanic soil and lava-tufa. Areas such as the Colli Albani are rich in potassium, which guarantees a greater amount of grape sugar and better aromatic expression. In fact, much of Lazio vineyards rest on volcanic soils and terroir is the last thing Lazio needs to worry about, since it already possesses a very high quality one. The climate is temperate and rainfall is scarce, sometimes too scarce. The hilly areas of Lazio give rise to wines such as the Cesanese del Piglio DOCG (located near Frosinone) but Cesanese wines are also at the basis of great wines called Cesanese d’Affile and Cesanese di Olevano Romano, as well as the Cannellino Frascati DOCG and Frascati Superiore DOCG (all along the hills south of Rome).
White wines are made primarily with two different Malvasia grapes and two different Trebbianos. The Grechetto variety is grown mainly in the northern areas of Viterbo, not surprisingly on the border with Umbria. A special wine made in the area is the DOC Aleatico Gradoli, sweet wine or fortified sweet wine produced with Aleatico. Lazio’s most important native grape is undoubtedly Celanese, which is found in slightly different varieties, Cesane Comune and Cesanese d’Affile.
In the area of Cerveteri (DOC), in the hills near the sea north of Rome, whites are mainly based on Trebbianos and Malvasias, as well as in the area of Montefiascone, known for the “Est! Est!! Est!!!” DOC wine, but the problem is that there are wildly different quality levels between the various members of these two families. So while Malvasia del Lazio is a standout grape, Malvasia Bianca di Candia is not, and the same is true of the rare Trebbiano Giallo, a great variety, as compared to the very common but lousy Trebbiano Toscano.
DOCs: Aleatico di Gradoli DOC. | Aprilia DOC. | Atina DOC. | Bianco Capena DOC. | Castelli Romani DOC. | Cerveteri DOC. | Cesanese di Affile or Affile DOC. | Cesanese di Olevano Romano or Olevano Romano DOC. | Circeo DOC. | Colli Albani DOC. | Colli della Sabina DOC. | Colli Etruschi Viterbesi or Tuscia DOC. | Colli Lanuvini DOC. | Cori DOC. | Est! Est!! Est!!! di Montefiascone DOC. | Frascati DOC. | Genazzano DOC. | Marino DOC. | Montecompatri Colonna or Montecompatri or Colonna DOC. | Nettuno DOC. | Orvieto DOC (shared with Umbria). | Roma DOC. | Tarquinia DOC. | Terracina o Moscato di Terracina DOC. | Velletri DOC. | Vignanello DOC. | Zagarolo DOC.
IGTs: Civitella d’Agliano IGT. | Colli Cimini IGT. | Frusinate IGT. | Lazio IGT. | Passerina del Frusinate.
White: ‘High-yielding Trebbiano Toscano and Malvasia Bianca di Candia ruined Lazio’s key wines, Frascati and Marino. Cannellino, the sweet white of Frascati, has also suffered lousy winemaking. High quality natives are the Malvasia del Lazio (Malvasia Puntinata) [sometimes other grapes are passed off as being from this varietal] and Bellone. Moscato di Terracina resembles Moscato Bianco but is genetically different’, says Ian D’Agata (2014). See also Passerina.
Other: The following varieties are under research: Maturano Bianco, Pampanaro, Capolongo, Uva Micella, Uva Molle, Lecinaro, and Tendòla, although some of these may be varieties grown elsewhere under different names (Ian D’Agata, 2014).
No certification: Casale del Giglio.
Burton Anderson, The Wine Atlas of Italy (Mitchell Beazley, London, 1990).
David Gleave, The Wines of Italy (Salamander Books, London, 1989).
Dr Ian D’Agata, Native Wine Grapes of Italy (University of California Press, 2014), p42-3 (abridged).
Dr Ian d’Agata, Native Wine Grape Terroirs (University of California Press, 2019).
Nicolas Belfrage MW, Life Beyond Lambrusco (Sidgwick & Jackson, 1985).
Nicolas Belfrage MW, From Barolo to Valpolicella—The Wines of Northern Italy (Faber & Faber, 1999).
Nicolas Belfrage MW, From Brunello to Zibibbo–The Wines of Tuscany, Central and Southern Italy (2nd edition, London, 2003).