The city of Rome is one of the most important places in the world when it comes to wine history.
The wine techniques and technologies developed by the Roman empire paved the way for winemakers in other countries and helped establish the worldwide wine economy.
Today, much of the wines of Rome are made in the Lazio region surrounding the city, with Castelli Romani being the closest region to the city’s center.
Exploring The Wines of Rome
Roman Wine History
It is impossible to tell the history of wine without highlighting the history of early Roman wine-making.
At the height of the Roman empire’s prominence, wine was such an important part of daily life that an estimated one bottle per civilian was consumed every day.
Before the rise of the Roman empire, the Greeks were the most important makers of wine and were the first in the region to develop a taste for the beverage. The earliest winemaking techniques in Rome were learned from the Greeks.
Using Greek wine-making techniques and technologies, early Romans were able to start making wine using indigenous wild grapes. Vineyards were later planted, paving the way for the rise of early Roman winemaking.
Early Roman Wine
By the year 121 BC, Rome had established its own winemaking culture and began hitting its stride in terms of wine quality.
Some of the best wines from 121 BC were of high enough quality to be aged and enjoyed well into the modern era.
The highest quality and most sought-after wine of the era was called Falernian, and the 121 BC vintage of Falernian was known as the best wine ever produced to date.
Legend has it that the vintage was of such high quality that it was served to Julius Caesar around 60 AD.
The Fall of Roman Wine
About 400 years before the fall of the Roman empire, the eruption of Mount Vesuvius destroyed the city of Pompeii, which was a major wine-producing region.
The ensuing wine shortage led to a dramatic increase in the price of wine, and more vineyards were planted as a result.
The mass planting of grapes after the eruption led to a shortage of farmland and subsequently, a food shortage occurred in Rome.
In the year 92 AD, a ban was placed on wine grapes to make room for food crops, and nearly half of Rome’s vineyards were destroyed at the time.
Roman Wine Techniques
The Romans learned many of their early winemaking techniques from the Greeks and used that foundation to build on going forward.
Over the years, Rome developed many techniques still used in winemaking today, from grape cultivation to vinification and aging techniques.
Along with developing cutting-edge wine-making techniques at the time, the Romas were one of the first to successfully document everything from wine-making tips and techniques to the quality of wines of different vintages and grape varietals.
Famous authors like Pliny the Elder were key in the passing down of information to future generations, which would prove especially helpful after the fall of Rome’s “golden era of wine”.
Roman Wine Technology
Early Roman wine presses were rudimentary and similar in style to Greek tools. Years later, Roman wine was pressed in specialized dedicated rooms that allowed winemakers to extract more juice from the grapes after the free run juice from manual crushing was finished.
Another important wine innovation introduced by the Romans was the glass storage bottle. Historically, wine was transported and stored in large clay pots, where it would often oxidize quickly.
The rise of glass blowing technology in Rome was a game changer in the world of wine.
Aside from imparting no flavor and allowing the wine to age more slowly, winemakers were able to make more delicate wines.
Before glass bottle storage, wines were made in a strong often fortified style to allow them to last longer in clay pots.
Castelli Romani is the closest modern wine region to the city of Rome and is the same area where many of the famous wines of 121 BC were produced. Today, the region is best known for its white wine blend of local grape varietals Trebbiano and Malvasia.
Vineyards in this region are situated on hillsides, and the elevation allows them to enjoy a slightly cooler climate than the plains down below.
The volcanic soils are very fertile and provide the grapes with a signature taste that the wines are known for.
Cantine Silvestri Castelli Romani Bianco is a popular and affordable blend of the Trebbiano and Malvasia grapes from the Castelli Romani region.
At under $10 a bottle, this bottle of wine offers one of the best values anywhere in the world of wine.
Cantine Silvestri’s Castelli Romani Rosso is one of the more popular bottles of red wine from the region, and it combines Merlot and Sangiovese grapes to provide a full-bodied red with balanced acidity and a significant length of finish.
The Frascati region is one of the most important areas in Roman winemaking history, and the wines grown here were so highly regarded that the grapes were named after the town.
The town of Frascati is located about 15 miles from the city of Rome and is home to a rich wine history. The early wines produced in Frascati were served to popes and royalty alike, and the area was considered to be the region with the best wine grapes in the empire.
Today, the town of Frascati is best known for white wine production, with the majority of wines containing variations of the Malvasia grape.
The white wine blends from the Frascati region can range from very sweet to bone dry depending on the wine style and grape blend used.
In ancient Rome, the town of Frascati produced a high-quality white wine that was considered to be the best in Rome.
The grape was named after the area where it was grown, and the Frascati grape was the most sought-after and expensive at the time.
Sweet wines made from the Frascati grape were usually reserved for the nobility and the rich, as the price of this type of wine was very high compared to everyday wine. This was the grape used in the famous wine vintage of 121 BC.
Unfortunately, the grape did not survive the fall of the Roman empire. Today, a blend of local grape varietals is used to produce a crisp white wine blend, though it is not considered to be Rome’s most prized wine like that produced by the Frascati grape.
Fontana Candida Frascati Superiore Secco DOCG is a blend of the Trebbiano and Malvasia grapes that the region is best known for these days. At under $15 a bottle, this easy drinking wine is a great candidate for outdoor gatherings and summer parties.
Fontana Candida Luna Mater is a highly rated wine by sommeliers and wine critics alike. This bottle of wine offers a bit more depth and complexity while maintaining the signature drinkability that white wine from the Frascati region is known for.
The wine region of Lazio covers all of Rome’s surrounding area, and much of today’s “Roman wine” is actually produced in the outskirts of the Lazio region. The area is home to three DOCGs, 27 DOCs, and six IGPs.
The best white wines in the Lazio wine region are made in one of two DOCG designations. Dry white wines fall into the Frascati Superiore category, while the highest quality sweet whites are of the Cannelino di Frascati designation.
There is also a red wine DOCG designation called Cesanese del Piglio.
The red blend here is made up of famous grapes like Sangiovese and Merlot, along with three other Italian grape varietals. These dry red wines are of high quality and vary based on the blend ratio.
Merumalia ‘Canto’ is a high-quality Lazio wine that falls under the Cannelino di Frascati DOCG designation. This wine is organically produced and offers a fantastic value for a wine of its quality at around $40 per bottle.
The Frascati and Castello Romani wine regions are both designated as DOCs, and they are two of the most recognizable and important sub-regions of Lazio.
There are 25 other DOCs spread out around Lazio that cover everything from dry whites to sweet red wines.
DOCs are areas that adhere to strict guidelines regarding everything from the wine grapes allowed to standard aging techniques and time requirements.
Choosing Lazio wines with a DOC designation is a great way to ensure quality for unsure buyers eager to try Roman wine.
Antonio Federici Vino Rosso Roma DOC is a red blend from Lazio that has received a 91-point score from world-renowned wine critic James Suckling. At under $15 a bottle, this represents one of the best values in Lazio DOC wines.
The designation of IGP is less stringent and involves fewer rules and regulations than those in DOCs. There are six different IGP designations in the Lazio region, and some high-quality producers can be found in these IGPs.
Many wine producers in Lazio would rather not deal with all the rules and oversight involved in a DOC designation and choose instead to produce wine as an IGP. The most famous IGP in the region is the namesake Lazio IGP.
A bottle usually costs around $65, and this is a prime example of a high-quality winemaker opting to produce under the IGP designation.
Wines of Rome – Conclusion
Rome is one of the most important places in the world when it comes to the history of wine, and the strong wine tradition of the area is kept alive today in a major way.
Using techniques and technology developed by the ancient Romans, today’s winemakers continue to produce fantastic wine within minutes of the city.
Be sure to comment below and let everyone know your favorite wines of Rome!