Castelli Romani – the wrong colour?

The funny thing about Lazio, the Italian wine region of which Rome is capital, is how relatively un-winey it is. And such wine as is made, tends to be white. Its most famous wine region is in the heavily populated hills just south-east of Rome, the Castelli Romani (think Epsom, Brits) where the Pope once had his summer residence – Castelgandolfo is twinned with Châteauneuf-du-Pape – and such wines as Frascati and Marino are made.

Having just spent a few days sitting in traffic there between some of the better wineries, and having discussed the local winescape with those in the know, I am left with the overriding impression that, yet again, the law is an ass. Everyone who understands wine and who knows the terrain agrees that these rich, volcanic soils would be much more suitable for red than white wine production. But when the DOCs were being drawn up there was a) a tradition of drinking white rather than red wine in Rome (which is strange since the food is certainly hearty enough to support red wine and red wine is much more widely drunk elsewhere and in hotter parts of Italy) and b) there was a worldwide expectation then that white wine was the wine of the future.

So after white wines became the most enshrined in the local DOC laws, growers tended to pull up their red wine vines (Cesanese being the most obvious variety) and replant with high-yielding and rather ordinary Malvasia Candia to produce oceans of Frascati, etc. Today, quality-conscious producers such as Tenuta Le Quinte and their wonderfully named white Vertù Romane (Roman Virtue) and Castel de Paolis are either replacing the over-productive Malvasia Candia with the more concentrated, more traditional Malvasia Puntinata or, in the case of Castel de Paolis, blending in flashy foreign imports such as Viognier (as in their Vigna Adriana).

Castel de Paolis's very sophisticated, all-foreign red Quattro Mori (Syrah and Bordeaux grapes) made with the help of celebrated oenologist Franco Bernabei certainly shows the potential of Lazio reds – as does Riccardo Coltarella at his Falesco winery on the Umbrian border to the north.

Wine connoisseurship is certainly growing in Rome where apparently there are 1600 accredited sommeliers and, as in other Roman cities, young people are increasingly interested in imported wines too. But even having a wine list is still a novelty in many restaurants where 'rosso o bianco?' is the full extent of wine service.

Castel de Paolis is imported into the UK by Millegiusti of London.