Once upon a time, the wines from a region in the outskirts of Rome never made it much further than their respective villas (or castelli). What a shame. It wasn’t because everybody was chugging a cold one before they could be sent out, but due to the tendency for the wines to re-ferment in the bottle during the heat of summertime travel and explode. Therefore, to avoid such disastrous excursions, a traditional Sunday outing for many Romans was to take a day trip out to the castelliand have a bottle of wine and a picnic, leaving happy, sloppy, and dry. Well, maybe just happy, dry and a little sun-burnt.
Roughly 15 miles southeast of Rome lay the Alban Hills, and within them, nests the town of Frascati, where the aforementioned wines hail from. This is Malvasia and Trebbiano territory, where white wines dominate over 80 percent of all wine produced in Lazio. It should be noted that Lazio ranks sixth in total wine production for Italy, totaling nearly 35 million cases a year, trailing behind Puglia, Sicily, Veneto, Emilia-Romagna, and Abruzzo. That’s a lot of white wine, but then again, there are a lot of Romans. Like Soave, Chablis and Chianti once experienced, Frascati got a bad rap for producing insipid, uninspiring wines that reminded people of not much else than a bad hangover. Times have changed and so have their reputations, but unfortunately Frascati remains in the shadow, not quite gaining the popularity it deserves. Again, a shame.
Lazio, also known as Latium, is the homeland of the ancient Romans, and encompasses Rome and the surrounding area. Around the 3 rd century, with the city of Rome experiencing exceptional growth coupled with an increased interest in wine, the Roman aristocracy built summer homes with associated wineries and vineyards. Thus, today, the area with these ancient “homes” is referred to as Castelli Romani. Volcanic, calcareous, sicilious rock, or tufo, makes up the soil- when broken down, it provides an excellent base for white wines, much as in the French Loire region of Vouvray.
What exactly is Frascati? By hook, by crook (or by law), for a wine to be labeled Frascati it must be comprised of at least 70 percent Malvasia and/or Trebbiano grapes, with up to 30 percent Greco or Malvasia del Lazio and/or up to 10 percent other whites allowed – Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco, Viognier, you name it. If the winemaker chooses to use 100 percent Trebbiano, fantastic! 100 percent Malvasia? Wonderful! What about a varietal make up of 70 percent Trebbiano, 20 percent Greco and 10 percent Viognier? Sounds great! Frascati it is! However, it is the inclusion of all these other grapes that leads to a wide range of styles; some fat, plush, and tropical, while others are highly perfumed, packed with minerality and a lean profile that would make Kate Moss jealous. Usually made dry (secco or asciutto) but it is sometimes fairly sweet (amabile) or even sweeter (canellino).
Best drunk the summer after it has been released, we salute Frascati for the month of July, and we praise improved winemaking practices that allow us to (safely) enjoy this delight of a white.