Three quarters of the Lazio DOCs are dedicated to white wine and there are no famous or particularly renowned red wines. However, just because they are mostly consumed locally and will always struggle for international recognition when crowded out by the likes of Barolo, Chianti and Amarone doesn’t mean that there are not some really interesting wines being produced in Lazio and at some great prices too.
We are primarily interested in two red wine grape varieties, Cesanese d’Affile and Nero Buono, and the various blends that incorporate them. The Cesanese del Piglio area, which is situated between the small towns of Anagni and Paliano 40 miles east of Rome, and the nearby Olevano Romano (photo below) both include some of the best examples of the Cesanese d'Affile grape.
These two DOC zones are in the foothills of the high central Apennines in a loosely defined geographical area referred to by Italians as the Ciociaria. It’s an old name that was originally a slightly contemptuous term used by city people in Rome for this poor mountainous area where most of their servants came from. However the word became widely known throughout Italy when the writer Alberto Moravia wrote a book called 'La Ciociara' that was then made into a film of the same name ('Two Women' is its English name) starring Sophia Loren and she won the first of her two best actress Oscars in 1960 for her very moving performance in this film.
Wines made from the Cesanese grape tend to be quite aromatic with low acidity and lots of cherry and fresh fruit flavors and sweet spices. It is not an astringent or tannic grape variety like Sangiovese, which makes Cesanese wines approachable very young.
The second Lazio red wine grape of interest to us, Nero Buono, is mostly cultivated around the town of Cori or in the Castelli Romani, both of which we introduced in our first Lazio wine article. Under the DOC regulations, only in the Castelli Romani are 100% Nero Buono wines allowed whereas in Cori the maximum is 40% so many of these wines will be labeled as IGT wines rather than DOC.
A lot of these rules never make much sense to us, especially in this case when the town of Cori seems to have the ideal conditions for this grape with elevations up to 1,600 feet and rich volcanic soils. Much better then for wine drinkers to concentrate on who makes the actual wine rather than some of the detail on the label and with Nero Buono the best two exponents of this varietal are Cincinnato and Marco Carpineti, two familiar names from the first article in this series.
Principe Pallavicini - Rubillo 2019 - Lazio IGT (100% Cesanese)
(fermentation in stainless steel and aging in steel and concrete, 12.5% alcohol)
Ruby red. Bright red fruits on the nose, very lively and fresh. A little tart in the mouth but very mellow tannins. Spicy and ripe, a light wine and a little rustic perhaps. A good value 7 euro wine because good cheap red wines in Italy are generally harder to find than good cheap whites.
Marco Carpineti - Tufaliccio 2019 - Lazio IGT
(fermentation and aging in stainless steel, 13.5% alcohol)
Blend of 70% Montepulciano d’Abruzzo and 30% Cesanese and fully organic.
Cherry and red fruits on the nose and some structure and tannin from the Montepulciano grape. This is not expensive at 8 euros but we're not sure this blend really works because of the noticeable astringency. At the very least we think the Cesanese percentage should have been much higher.
Cincinnato - Pollùce 2018 - Lazio IGT
(fermentation and aging in stainless steel,13% alcohol)
Made from 100% Nero Buono grape the nose is full of slightly stewed red berries and red fruits. Easy drinking uncomplicated soft red wine with no real tannins but some acidity. Give it a bit of time in the glass to open up. At 6 euros in Italy it’s excellent value because red wines at this price are sometimes not much fun to drink.
Poggio Le Volpi - Roma Rosso 2018 - Roma DOC
(blend of Montepulciano, Syrah and Cesanese)
(aged in barrique and tonneau, 14% alcohol)
Nose of ripe red fruits and spices. Full bodied and quite concentrated but very soft tannins. A very enjoyable wine and noticeably better than the two previous wines and at 12 euros in Italy it's not bad value.
Coletti Conti - Hernicus 2018 - Cesanese del Piglio DOCG Superiore
(fermented in stainless steel and aged partly in steel and partly in french oak barriques, 100% Cesanese di Affile, 14.5% alcohol)
Situated not far from Anagni in the heart of Cesanese del Piglio country, this property has been in the Conti family for over 800 years. The vineyards are at close to 1,000 feet on partly volcanic soils.
Deep ruby red. On the nose lots of dark flowers and black fruits and spices, including licorice, cinnamon and cloves. Quite smooth and balanced but still fresh with aromatic nuances and balsamic notes that give the wine depth and persistence. Some cheaper Cesanese wines can be a little flat and rustic but this is quite a sophisticated wine though on the heavier side of the spectrum. At the same 13.30 euro price as the Silene from Damiano Ciolli (below) there’s a real competition between these two wines.
Casale della Ioria - Tenuta della Ioria 2017 - Cesanese del Piglio DOCG Superiore
(fermentation in stainless steel and aging in large wooden barrels, 13.5% alcohol)
Ruby red. Lots of spice on the nose and more mature fruit flavors than the typical fresh cherries of this varietal. Full, rich and ripe flavors with very soft tannins and low acidity. 2017 was so hot and dry that Cesanese was harvested a month earlier than usual which probably explains the lack of freshness in the fruit flavors and the minimal acidity. Still, this is a lovely wine and very easy to drink.
Casale della Ioria is a wine estate we definitely need to put on our list to visit. They produce 6 reds, 1 white and 2 spumante wines including a superiore, a riserva, an organic wine and a completely sulfite free wine as well as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot blends.
Very good value at 10 euros in Italy.
Damiano Ciolli - Silene 2019 - Olevano Romano Cesanese DOC Superiore
(fermentation and aging in stainless steel, 100% Cesanese di Affile, 13.5% alcohol)
Garnet red. Full rich nose of red fruits, full bodied and quite intense wine with a long smooth finish.
From vineyards at 1,500 feet with volcanic soils this is Damiano Ciolli’s entry level wine and it’s full of character and very balanced. It’s a serious wine and more elegant than most Cesanese wines partly due to the higher altitude and partly the lack of any wood in the aging process. It's a real pleasure to drink for 13.30 euros in Italy.
Falesco - Tellus Syrah 2018 - Lazio IGT (100% Syrah)
(fermentation in stainless steel and aging in oak barrels for 5 months, 13.5% alcohol)
This may be an Italian wine but it's completely true to the Syrah grape varietal with its violet color and nose of blueberries and cherries, with spice and pepper in the background.
Soft tannins but enough acidity to give it lift and balance and the wood aging is not at all intrusive. I'm not sure what other red wine you can find in Italy for under 8 euros that could possibly be better than this. Plenty of character but also unusual finesse for the price.
Another great value wine from Falesco alongside their Chardonnay from the prior article.