When in Rome, drink wine as the Romans do.
With all of the goings-on of the election and arrival of Pope Francis and all of the international news coverage surrounding Vatican City and Rome—and add to the fact that the heat’s on here in the desert, man!—I have had such an insatiable big-time thirst for some delicious Roman wine. I’m like a dog in August! Geez! What are you all up to?
And one would think that with all of the stereotyped images of the joyful, relaxing, and delightful atmosphere of the Roman afternoon—la bella vita di far niente (the good life of doing nothing) and the bella figura lounge and promenade people-watch, that there would be a plethora of famous Roman wine flowing from out of the City of Seven Hills like the famous water fountains continuously do.
Well—where is all this Roman wine! The fact is, the huge metropolis of Rome has for millenniums enjoyed great wine from everywhere else in Italia—remember all roads lead to Rome—so why spend any appreciable time and effort producing wine when you have barrels of great Barolo and other strains of Nebbiolo from the foothills of the French-Italian Alps—Piemonte; wine from the great vineyard areas of Verona and the Amarone produced there; and the blood of Jupiter grapes—Sangiovese. gushing from the beautiful landscape of Tuscany.
And from the south, gorgeous dark bold wine from Puglia—the heel of the boot; the Godfatheresque era red wines from Calabrese and Sicily that you “shove” in the pot when preparing spaghetti sauce; and the whole spectrum of wine from all of the ports around the Mediterranean Sea.
Well—I guess that explains the fact that Rome itself never had to produce a great wine when the entire wine world came beckoning to their door. But c’mon! there’s got to be some famous or good indigenous wine—I mean this is the capital of Italy! The entire Italian peninsula is one long vineyard.
Actually, people in Latium began cultivating vine thanks to the previous inhabitants, the Latins that (as confirmed by Pliny the Elder) learned refined agricultural techniques from Etruscan populations who themselves learned from the Ancient Greeks
Few people know that the large area of the Eternal City (Lazio) is given over to vineyards. More than 85% of Lazio wines are white: Trebbiano Toscano and Malvasia. And no wine is more identified with the City of Rome than Frascati. A beautiful limpid golden wine tasting of whole grapes. It can be dry or sweet. It’s the most often mentioned wine in Italian literature and Pope Gregori XVI drank it all day long.
Like bad rhyme, there’s a lot of disappointing Fracasti around, so look for Conte Zandotti or Santa Theresa from Fontana Candida. The best place to drink it is from the jug in a tratorria in Trastevere, Roma. Locally, you can find a really nice glass of Frascati at the new Figue Mediterranean restaurant in La Quinta. www.EatFigue.com 760.698.9040.
The “other” most famous white wine in town is Est!Est!!Est!!! A real fun name for sure—that serious wine critics pan as being so unextraordinary. But I tell you—If I’m sitting drinking Est!Est!!Est!!! in Rome, I’m finding everything extraordinary!
From Montefiascone this wine is also made from Trebianno & Malvasia grapes. It’s a pretty low key semi-sweet wine with a small amount of effervescence and mild fruity flavors.
As to the name, the story goes that Emperor Henry V, King of Germany was heading to Rome to do politics and enjoy a Roman vacation. His Bishop Defuk and the cup-bearor Martino were in the king’s wake heading out to all of the taverns to determine who had the best wine for the king to drink. Martino would write “est” (loosely translated: “this is it”) on the tavern wall when discovering good wine. When he came to Montefiascone, he was blown away and wrote (and no doubt drank) in the superlative.
Funny—Bishop Defuk was also smitten with the bar life and decided to stay in town forever. There’s a yearly custom of pouring an entire barrel wine on his granite grave—gets a big turn-out!
But wait a minute! These are all white wines! I’m not thinking about white wine. This is Rome: I want red wine! Gladiators! Red stuff! Blood colors! Redness!—the Cardinals in the Vatican all wore red outfits with red shoes! Let’s go people—Andiamo! Is there a house red in town!
Well, I guess the last true Roman area grape standing is the Casanese. The local standard red, at best, it’s a nice table wine. Giovanni Terenzi‘s Vajoscuro is probably the one to look for. It’s got a little berry, tobacco, and leather action going on. It isn’t a Chianti, it’s not a Cab, Merlot, or Syrah, but at least it’s Roman. And, again, if we’re sitting eating in an osteria in Rome and drinking this red table wine—life is good!
Grazie Roma! Ciao!
Rick is your Italian wine-guide; you should really take him along when you go to Italy. Contact winespectrum@aol.com