When I lived in Rome I drank bad bottle after bad bottle of wine. Up until very recently the wine culture in Rome was limited to crisp white wines with no adoring qualities. Restaurateurs hardly cared to stock their cellars with interesting pours, and the big producers from the Castelli Romani flooded the eternal city with very low quality wine.
I also remember taking a very entertaining train ride to Marino, in the heart of the Frascati wine region, for their annual “sagra dell’uva,” which was an excuse for seemingly every Italian living in and around Rome to get outrageously drunk on terrible wine. No one seemed to care however, as life couldn’t have been better for anyone at the festival, with wine flowing out of the cities principal fountain during that special day. It is said that when switching the lines one year, a city official mistakenly sent wine into people’s houses instead. Suddenly citizens of Marino where bathing and washing their dishes in wine. Viva l’Italia!
The game is finally changing in Rome, however, as wine has become an integral part of the equation for young restaurateurs in particular. I can’t make any promises for changes to the festival, but in Italy, things happen slowly. Now on a menu in Rome you may come across a Malvasia Puntinata on a list a small producers like Casale Certosa.
This is the side of Lazio I want to introduce you to. Yes, those awful Frascati wines aren’t going away any time soon, but now there is a crop of small producers making some very interesting wines in the hills around Rome. This is news to many of you I am sure, as Lazio might as well be the New Jersey of Italy when it comes to wine. Just the thought of these wines makes some cringe.
In the Castelli Romani (which is a set of towns southeast of Rome, they are the south shore of MA to the city of Rome..but with much older buildings) the wines of Frascati have been made for centuries. This constitutes a blend of Malvasia (Candia or Puntinata), Bellone, Greco, and Trebbiano (Giallo or Toscano). Today, to differentiate themselves from the mess that is Frascati, smaller producers have taken to two local white varietals: Malvasia Puntinata and Trebbiano Giallo, both of which are native to Lazio and specifically the Castelli.
Casale Certosa, a winery that has been around since the 60’s, has helped lead this charge. The winery is run by two brothers, Alberto and Fausto, who took the reigns from their father. In 2000, they started officially bottling their family wines and reconstructed their old family home (casale) as well as the monastery (certosa) next door.