The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

A Look at Lazio, from Est! Est!! Est!!! to the Rebirth of Fiorano

Posted on | December 1, 2014 | Written by IWM Staff | No Comments

IMG_1489 Lazio is most famous for being the region where Rome is located. It’s hard to shine in the presence of the Eternal City, but Lazio does have some wine gems that make it stand out. The home to Frascati, Est! Est!! Est!!!, Fiorano, and more, Lazio is one of the unsung Italian wine regions, though Lazio is definitely perched for a comeback. Lazio is a winemaking region with esteemed past that’s marked by frequent mention in literary works and legends, but it’s not merely the stuff of romance. For the past several years, Lazio has been in revival mode, setting the stage for the entrance of some wines, both white and red wines, that suggest a shining future for Lazio.

The Alban Hills establish Lazio’s viticultural credentials, given their well-drained, potassium-rich volcanic soils. The Frascati zone, one of the nine DOCs comprising the Alban Hills, enjoys a modified Mediterranean clime, enabling its wines to retain essential acidity. While most Frascati uses the Trebbiano grape, some producers endeavor to craft more distinctive wines by using Malvasia, an aromatic varietal, to provide a more substantive contribution; in fact, Frascati may be a mono-varietal Malvasia.

Trebbiano also enjoys the key position in the Est! Est!! Est!!! designation, another of Lazio’s success stories (according to legend, its name, meaning “It is,” comes from the critical reaction of a 12th-century bishop’s scout, under charge to find quality wines en route to the Vatican). These fresh, quaffable whites are central Italy’s answer to the whites of Cinque Terre or Pinot Grigio.

While Lazio’s producers work hard to raise the profile of the region, it also possesses one of the wine world’s most compelling legacies: the wines of Alberico Boncompagni Ludovisi, the prince of Venosa. Ludovisi’s wines—a Bianco, Sémillon, and Rosso—are hard-to-find treasures whose full story can be read here. Utilizing an early form of organic viticulture and maintaining exceedingly low yields, the prince crafted mystical wines; he destroyed the vineyards when no longer able to tend them so that his story could be told only by the wines he himself crafted.

IMG_3824This story, however, has sequel, as fairytales often do. Today, Fiorano is the personal project of 26th generation winemaker Alessia Antinori, one of Marchese Piero Antinori’s three daughters who inherited a good portion of the estate after the death of their grandfather, Alberico Boncompagni Ludovisi. A trained enologist, Alessia, in conjunction with her sisters Allegra and Albiera, took on the project of restoring the estate of her grandfather, the Prince, to its former majesty. Like her grandfather, Alessia is devoted to using organic protocol to grow her grapes, as well as the estate’s surrounding olive trees and vegetable gardens; in fact, Alessia is going even further, taking the estate biodynamic. Since beginning her renovations, Alessia has discovered rows of forgotten vines, and she has replanted the rest using old clippings and original rootstock. While the output of the estate is excruciatingly tiny, Alessia and the world’s wine-lovers are optimistic for the renaissance of this great estate.

Lazio’s red wines constitute a minority category at present, but many believe that red is Lazio’s true color. For now, it’s doing quite well with Merlot and Cab bottlings, the most well-known of which are crafted by Riccardo Cotarella—the Italian star of the consulting world. In addition to working with international grapes and Italian standards like Sangiovese and Montepulciano, several producers are working with the indigenous Cesanese, previously used only in frizzante wines, through both single-varietal offerings and blends.

Many will, perhaps, be on familiar terms with some staples of Lazian cuisine, dishes like spaghetti alla carbonara, bucatini all’amatriciana, and abbacchio (milk-fed lamb) alla romana. Lazians are particularly devoted to abbacchio, which serves as both a year-round specialty and signature dish of Easter), and the region’s chefs specialize in a few denizens of the garden like peas, zucchini, fava beans, and most notably, artichokes. All roads lead to Rome, the saying goes, and you can’t get to Rome without traversing Lazio. Here’s hoping you enjoy drinking some of the region’s wines on the way!

IWM’s December 2, 2014 eLetter will feature wines from Alessia Antinori’s Fiorano project.

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