The Italian region of Lazio, which extends from Rome north to Tuscany, south more than half way to Naples and east past Rieti to the Amatrice corridor in the high mountains of the central Appenines, has always produced more white wine than red wine.
With that in mind, this series of articles on Lazio wines will include two articles on white wine, one on red wine and then a final article profiling one of the most progressive and experimental wine estates in Lazio (and perhaps even in Italy), Casale del Giglio, that produces an extensive range of interesting whites and reds in the Agro Pontino valley a few miles inland from Anzio, north of the town of Latina.
The best white wine regions in Lazio have traditionally been quite close to Rome making it all the more surprising that these areas have produced such uninspiring wines for so long. But now, after decades of churning out large quantities of cheap wine to quench the thirst of tourists in the capital city, it seems that things are finally starting to turn around.
As we may have stated elsewhere, we are big fans of Italian white wines that are grown in volcanic soils and it seems that there is no shortage of these areas in Italy. The places of most interest to us in Lazio with these characteristics are the Castelli Romani, a few miles south-east of Rome including Frascati, secondly the area around Cori (above photo), a little further south but still barely 40 miles from the capital and lastly the extreme northern part of Lazio which is just south of the Umbrian town of Orvieto and east of Lago di Bolsena, the largest volcanic lake in Europe.
Certain producers in both the Frascati and Cori DOC regions have made great strides in the last 5-10 years to produce higher quality wines and prices remain very fair. There is no Tuscany price premium here, instead there are some of the best wine values in Italy and perhaps anywhere.
Things move slowly in Italy and even slower when talking about wine practices, which often require a new generation of winemakers to come along before serious changes are made. But in Frascati and elsewhere in the Castelli Romani and also Cori, really interesting wines are being made with indigenous grape varieties that most Italians outside Lazio have barely heard of, never mind foreigners. The Bellone and Malvasia Puntinata grapes are the outstanding two white varietals that in the right hands are now producing some excellent wines.
Here in part 1 we will comment primarily on non-Frascati white wine producers, many of them around Cori, and then in part 2 we'll review the Frascati white wines.
The first three wines described below are all from Cincinnato which just like the American city is named after the Roman statesman. It’s organized as a co-operative with 130 growers and over the last 25 years has done a commendable job planting and developing native cultivars, in particular Bellone, Malvasia Puntinata, Nero Buono, Cesanese and various Greco cultivars.
The town of Cori is at 1,250 feet, surrounded by well draining volcanic soils and has warm dry summers with moderating sea breezes. The DOC requirements for the white wines require a minimum of 50% Bellone, with Malvasia and Greco Bianco making up most of the other permitted grape varieties. The wider Lazio IGT denomination is used quite frequently by winemakers because of its flexibility in allowing for a range of styles and grape combinations that are not permitted under the stricter and more rigid DOC labelling rules.
Cincinnato - Enyo 2018 - Lazio IGT
(Fermentation and aging for 1 year in stainless steel, malolactic conversion, 13.5% alcohol)
Pale straw yellow. Intense, powerful and slightly exotic nose. In the mouth it's quite soft and round as a result of the malolactic conversion. Lots of citrus and decent acidity with mineral notes. This is only the second vintage for this wine that is made from vines grown on volcanic soil with high concentrations of ash. Good value at 11 euros.
Cincinnato - Castore 2018 - Cori IGT
(Fermentation and aging in stainless steel for 6 months then bottle for 6 months, no malolactic conversion, 13% alcohol)
Cincinnato's entry level Bellone. Brilliant straw yellow. Delicate nose of citrus and apples with very zippy acidity, freshness and a certain mouthwatering sourness that begs for food. This wine is made to cut through all those Roman dishes containing fatty pancetta or guanciale as it really refreshes the mouth. Would be perfect with gricia or all’amatriciana. This might be the best value wine in Italy, white or red, given it costs less than 6 Euros. You'll never be embarrassed serving it to guests.
Cincinnato - Illirio 2018 - Cori DOC
50% Bellone, 30% Malvasia Puntinata, 20% Greco
(Fermentation and aging in stainless steel for 6 months then bottle for 6 months, no malolactic conversion, 13% alcohol)
Rich yellow gold. Apple and a touch of honey on the nose. Juicy and fresh with some gooseberry notes and good salinity. A pleasant lingering dry finish but this is a wine that's better with food. Also very good value at 7 euros.
Many Cincinnato wines are available in various export markets.
The next three wines are from Marco Carpineti, another producer who has made great progress since going completely organic in 1994 and who specializes in native grape varieties like Bellone and Nero Buono but also some of the rarer varietals like Greco Giallo and Greco Moro. He has 100 acres of vineyards and 30 acres of olive trees located on the slopes of the Lepini mountains close to Cori.
Marco Carpineti - Capolemole 2019 - Cori IGT
(Fermentation and aging in stainless steel, 13.5% alcohol)
Some very attractive tropical notes on the nose, pineapple in particular but the beauty of the Bellone grape is that the taste is never cloying. Rich fruit flavors with lots of acidity, a little mouth watering lime, salinity and good length. Excellent value at 9 euros.
Marco Carpineti - Moro 2018 - Lazio IGT
100% Greco Moro
(Aged in bottle for 12 months, 14% alcohol)
Lovely bright yellow green color. Powerful heady nose of lime and guava followed by a very rich, deep flavor with some very attractive but subtle bitterness suggestive of almonds which makes for a very clean finish. We had never heard of this rare grape variety before and kudos to Carpineti for nurturing it back to life. Very interesting wine, we like it a lot but for a Lazio white wine it's fully priced at 14 euros.
Marco Carpineti - Kius 2017 - Spumante Brut
(Metodo classico, fermented in stainless steel and aged 24 months in bottle, 12.5% alcohol)
Light golden yellow. Delicate fruity nose with that attractive biscuity yeast smell typical of single vintage sparkling wines made by the champagne method. Bright and refreshing with good flavor; another great bargain. Carpineti also produces two other spumante wines, both from the Nero Buono grape, so in effect a Blanc de Noir as the French describe Champagne made solely from black grapes. One is Extra Brut and the other Pas Dosé.
The third producer in this tasting is Poggio Le Volpi, located in the Alban Hills only 13 miles south-east of Rome and adjacent to, but not actually in, the Frascati DOCG. It's an area rich in volcanic matter and minerals and this estate cultivates a wide variety of grapes. We're mainly interested in the indigenous varietal, Malvasia Puntinata, which is also the primary grape of Frascati.
Poggio Le Volpi - Roma Bianco 2019 - Roma DOC
100% Malvasia Puntinata
(Fermentation and aging on its lees in stainless steel, 12.5% alcohol)
Straw yellow with green reflections. Citrus, grapefruit and orange peel on the nose. Soft and fruity with a mouthwatering slightly sour finish. Clean, precise and a good expression of the varietal. Quite a light wine and most people will find it a bit unusual at first. Not bad value at 13 euros, give it a try.
The next three producers are in a completely different part Lazio, the far north quite close to Orvieto in Umbria, and some of their vineyards cross over into Umbria but we will include them all here because frankly there's not a lot of wine in Umbria that stands out to us so we won't be covering that region in the foreseeable future. (If anyone reading this is a fan of the monstrously tannic Umbrian Montefalco Sagrantino red wines then you're on your own I'm afraid).
Sergio Mottura located in Civitella d'Agliano. We visited this producer for what turned out to be an extensive tasting and lunch several years ago. It was another one of those pleasant surprises that happen on the wine trail in Italy from time to time. We had only planned to stop briefly and buy a few of his wines to try but there was a group who had booked and paid for the full lunch and a comprehensive wine tasting personally conducted by Sergio Mottura and while we were with him they called to cancel.
Given Sergio had already made himself available, the food was already prepared and paid for and we were at that point engaged with him in a pleasant conversation while he waited for his guests, he promptly decided that we were to be the beneficiaries of the cancellation.
So out came all the food and all his wines and we had a fabulous time being entertained by Sergio, who is quite the raconteur. Luckily we were staying that night close by in Orvieto because the lunch went on and on as these things are wont to do in Italy.
And now that we're in the habit of reviewing wines for this website and providing more extensive information, Sergio's range of wines deserve a more comprehensive review at some future date than just this one tasting note because he has been a pioneer for the revival of the Grechetto grape and someone who has worked since he was a young man in the 1960s to improve his wines through the application of hard work, science and best practices.
Sergio Mottura - Poggio della Costa 2016 - Lazio IGT
(Aged in stainless steel on its lees for 6 months, 13.5% alcohol)
Pale straw. Lovely rich nose with notes of apple and sweet ripe pears and iodine and wet stones. Full, slightly bitter flavors with high levels of glycerin and mineral notes. This wine has got much better with age and is really quite a sophisticated evolved wine now.
This was another fortuitous discovery because I didn't know we still had a bottle of 2016 left (found in a box under the bed in fact) and this was a real revelation as we've never had one more than 2-3 years old before. Clearly a wine that improves significantly and almost changes character with some bottle age. Very fairly priced at 13 euros if you can give it some time in bottle.
Falesco located just across the river Tiber in Umbria on the way to Montecchio.
This is a producer we are in the process of discovering, having bought a couple of bottles on a whim in Viterbo last year. The Cotarella brothers now have an interesting and diverse portfolio of wines, introduced one by one over the last 40 years and they deserve a visit and a closer look.
Falesco - Tellus 2020 - Lazio IGT
(Fermentation in stainless steel and aging in bottle, no malolactic conversion, 12.5% alcohol)
Citrus and white fruits, dry and pleasantly acidic with good minerality. Refreshing and crisp, a perfect warm weather Chardonnay with relatively low alcohol. Great value at 7 euros and serious competition for the Cincinnato Bellone for the best bargain in Lazio.
Paolo e Noemia D'Amico located in Lazio on the west side of the Tiber almost opposite Falesco in the small town of Castiglione in Teverina.
Another interesting portfolio of wines are produced here, very much geared towards taking advantage of the vineyard altitudes of between 1,500 and 1,800 feet with Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, Merlot and Chardonnay being the main grapes. Another producer of whom we know very little but who deserves a visit though most of their wines look a bit pricey for us.
Paolo e Noemia D'Amico - Calanchi di Vaiano 2019 - Lazio IGT
(Fermentation and aging in stainless steel, 13% alcohol)
Straw yellow with green reflections. Bright and crisp with white fruits and lemony nose. This is a really dry wine, surprisingly so, and quite taught. The exact opposite of a California Chardonnay perhaps. However, the world is awash in Chardonnay so while it might be interesting for us to have the occasional Italian Chardonnay, there are too many exciting indigenous Italian grape varieties for readers outside Italy to try without adding this to the long list of Chardonnays readily available everywhere else in the wine world. At 12 euros it's overpriced compared to the Falesco Tellus Chardonnay above.