Lazio (or Latium) overflows with white wine, which in central Italy’s most productive region accounts for an unparalleled 90 percent of the total. Yet, despite the international renown of its DOC zones, the region’s wines are stuck with an everyday image and prices to match. To foreigners, the name Lazio means little in relation to wine. Rome overshadows the region.
Lack of identity may explain why Lazio’s wine industry, which is made up nearly two thirds of cooperatives, lacks the vibrancy so evident in other important wine regions. Curiously, Lazio’s most esteemed wines are red, but they are confined to a trio — Fiorano, Colle Picchioni and Torre Ercolana — all of which contain Cabernet and Merlot. Serious producers of white wine seem to be caught in a bind. Many feel that the prevalent Malvasia and Trebbiano represent a heritage that should be maintained against the universal drive toward Chardonnay. But most whites of Lazio have been transformed beyond recognition.
Viticulture has been in a state of flux for decades here, becoming modern after centuries in which rustic training systems prevailed. More than 200 varieties are still in use in Lazio, but only a dozen or so have much importance. Various members of the Trebbiano and Malvasia families mingle everywhere. The admirable native red Cesanese has barely held its own over the years, first against an influx of Sangiovese and Montepulciano, more recently against the Cabernets and Merlot that had begun to distinguish themselves on an elite scale decades ago.