In the Neighborhood . . . of Roma

I’ve been thinking and writing a lot lately about expanding my wine horizons, and drinking outside my comfort zone.  One of my girlfriends is going to Rome for a few days in March. Rome!!  Sigh.  If I can’t go with her, I will live vicariously and use her trip as motive to continue down the road less traveled and try some new wines.

Click on the photo for a link to a larger map.

To help my friend get ready for her Roman Holiday, we set the theme for this month’s Carpe Vinum as:  The wine regions in and around Rome.  Lazio is the wine region of Rome, so we considered doing a hyper-focus on just Lazio, but I worried about availability.  You can’t always just stroll into your neighborhood wine store and pick up an armful of wines from Lazio — it’s not Chianti.  So, we expanded our focus to include Rome’s neighbors:  Umbria, Abruzzo, and Campania.

And now, I’m gonna tell you everything I know about those wine regions.

Crickets.

Well, now you know.  I’ve got work to do.

Let’s get cracking!  Working north to south . . .

Umbria

Fun foods in Umbria:  Olive oil, black truffles, walnuts, lentils, chocolates (from Perugina)
Important white grapes:  Grechetto, Trebbiano (known locally as Procanico), Chardonnay
Important red grapes:  Sangiovese, Sagrantino, Gamay

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Sagrantino . . . I’ll take two!

Umbria is the only region in Italy that has both no coastline and no common border with another country (you’ll need that info on Jeopardy one day, I’m sure of it).  The majority of the wine is “light and white”, and the most well known white wines come from the Orvieto DOC. Those wines are mostly a blend of Grechetto, Trebbiano, Malvasia and Chardonnay.

When it comes to red wine, Umbria’s neighbor to the northwest, Tuscany, gets all the attention.  (Tuscany is Umbria’s Marcia! Marcia! Marcia!). Like Tuscany, the most widely planted red grape in Umbria is Sangiovese, and I’m told these wines tend to be more rustic than the Sangiovese from Tuscany.  And psssst . . . they’re also much cheaper.  Another interesting red grape in Umbria is Sagrantino.  It’s supposed to be killer with cured meats, pasta and strong cheeses. And there’s a dessert version called Sagrantino passito.  Yes, please.

Umbria wine wish-list:  Orvieto, bargain Sangiovese and Sagrantino (especially the passito).

Lazio

Fun foods in Lazio:  Artichokes, asparagus, peas, pecorino cheese
Important white grapes:  Malvasia, Trebbiano (some Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier)
Important red grapes:  Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Cesanese

There are no DOCG wines in Lazio, but there are 25 DOC wines.  Most of the wines from Lazio are white, not red — that was news to me.  I always thought the first duty of an Italian wine was to be red.  The most common white wine grapes are Malvasia and Trebbiano — both light, dry and crisp, with fairly high acidity.  They are intended to be drunk young . . . while sitting in the sunshine at a trattoria, just watching the Roman world go by.

EST-EST-EST

Perhaps the most interesting DOC zone in Lazio is Est! Est!! Est!!! di Montefiascone — reportedly named in the 12th century by a German bishop, Johann Fugger.  Bishop Fugger was on his way to Rome for the coronation of the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry V.  According to legend (so you know it’s true), the bishop was a bit of a foodie/oenophile, so he sent a scout ahead of the route to scope out establishments with good food and wine. When the scout found a good osteria, he wrote “Est!” on the door, which means “it is” in Latin. When the scout arrived in Montefiascone, he was so excited about the wines he tasted at the osteria, he wrote “Est! Est!! Est!!!” on the door . . . the Middle Ages equivalent of a Michelin Star.

Lazio wine wish-list:  Est! Est!! Est!!! and Frascati Superiore.

Abruzzo

Fun Foods in Abruzo:  Mortadella sausage, lamb, saffron, sheep’s milk cheeses, and porchetta (pork roast)
Important white grapes:  Trebbiano
Important red grapes:  Montepulciano

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The hills are alive . . .

Abruzzo is a mountainous region, and produces only one DOCG wine and three DOC wines.  Huh.  I thought every region in Italy produced hundreds of different wines. But my biggest surprise?  Over two-thirds of the wine made in Abruzzo is made by large cooperatives, and sold to other regions in Italy (Tuscany, Piedmont and Veneto) and France(!!) for blending purposes.

The most important wine in Abruzzo is Montepulciano d’Abruzzo.  But don’t confuse this Montelpulciano with the Tuscan Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.  In Tuscany, Montepulciano is the name of the town, in Abruzzo, it’s the name of a grape.  Not that Italian wine is confusing or anything.

Abruzzo wine wish-list:  Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and Rosato d’Abruzzo.

Campania

Fun foods in Campania:  Buffalo mozzarella, San Marzano tomatoes, pizza, eggplant, hazelnuts and almonds
Important white grapes:  Falanghina, Fiano, Greco, Coda di Volpe
Important red grapes:  Aglianico, Piedirosso

Campania is the shin of Italy’s boot, and includes the famous city of Naples.  Campania’s oldest winery, Mastroberardino, has been working diligently to preserve many native grapes in the region.  A few months ago, I had the opportunity to taste a bottle of 1980 Mastroberardino Taurasi Riserva.  Inside that bottle, I found the key to Pandora’s Box. You won’t believe what I found inside that box . . . click here to find out!

The most famous alcoholic beverage in Campania isn’t wine, but Limoncello . . . Italy’s sunshine in a bottle.  We probably need to end Carpe Vinum with a little sip of Limoncello.  It just seems prudent.

Campania is home to only one DOCG wine, the powerful red, Taurasi, made from the Aglianico grape.  In fact, it’s the only DOCG red wine in southern Italy.  I’ve tried a few Taurasi wines before, and I’m a big fan of the Old World, rustic funk.

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This stack of Taurisi reminds me of a game of Jenga . . .

Another well-known Campania wine is Lacryma Christi or, “Tears of Christ” wine, made on the hills of Mount Vesuvius.  It’s made in both white and red versions, and archaeologists have determined (from residue left in taps) that Lacryma Christi is the wine that most closely resembles the wine that ancient Romans drank.  So now you know what the house wine at The Colosseum was . . .

Campania wine wish-list:  More Taurasi and Lacryma Christi (red and white)

I realize I’ve only scratched the surface — doubtless, there are hundreds of other impressive wines to try from these regions, but with this, I feel a little bit more prepared for Carpe Vinum this month.

Stay tuned for the wines . . . and the food pairings!

Cin-Cin!

8 comments

  1. Excellent! Considering that next week I’m doing an extremely deep immersioninto the world of Italian wine ( VinItaly and Gambero Rosso in NYC), your post is extremely apropo.

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  2. I love Italy and I love this post. You obviously put in a lot of work researching. It’s so interesting. I used to live in Naples at the foot of Mt. Vesuvius, the little store near my house sold wine in barrels, Lacryma Christi, I brought bottles and filled them up from the barrels it was very inexpensive and delicious. I hung out often at the vineyard. Thank you for posting this it was wonderful.

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  3. Very nice eno-tour of central Italy, Kirsten!
    A few comments.
    There are actually three DOCG’s in Lazio: Cannellino di Frascati DOCG and Frascati Superiore DOCG (both created in 2011, for white wines that are predominantly made from Malvasia di Candia and/or Malvasia del Lazio grapes) and the older Cesanese del Piglio DOCG (created in 2008, for red wines predominantly made from Cesanese di Affile grapes). Despite the bad rep that Frascati’s have justifiably had for many years, nowadays there are a few producers that make quality wines, especially in the Frascati Superiore appellation. On the red front, Cesanese del Piglio may also be good, as are certain good Syrah’s and Merlot’s. Times are a-changing.
    Campania has instead four DOCG’s, beside Taurasi these are Aglianico del Taburno (created in 2011, for red wines mostly made from Aglianico grapes), plus two white DOCG’s: Fiano di Avellino and Greco di Tufo (both created in 2003, based on Fiano grapes and Greco grapes, respectively).
    Campania is a treasure trove of excellent wines, both white and red. Lesser known producers such as Marisa Cuomo (I wrote a post about them a while ago) do a wonderful work in preserving indigenous varieties that were on the brink of extinction and making wonderful wines out of them.
    Finally, there are other DOCG wines in southern Italy (in Basilicata, Puglia and Sicily).
    Hope you will get to taste some of these wines soon and let us know what you think about them!
    Take care

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    1. I was so hoping you would chime in, Stefano! Thanks for the WEALTH of information!! I almost asked you before I wrote the post, but then I thought, no, if I don’t do the work myself, I won’t learn. 😉 We have Carpe Vinum (our wine club) next Friday, so we’ll taste at least six wines from any of the 4 regions. I can’t wait!!

      I will look for Marisa Cuomo — I love discovering lesser known producers. Salute!

      Like

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