Chapter 13th – Lazio, Rome and Castelli Romani
Lazio is a region in central Italy and home to the ancient capital city of Rome, considered one of the most beautiful cities in the whole World. Wine wise, the region’s reputation is mainly based on its white wines, the mainstay grape varieties being Trebbiano, Malvasia di Candia and Malvasia Puntinata.
Traditionally these wines were fat, rounded, abboccato and made for immediate consumption. Today the styles are lighter, drier and crisper thanks to modern vinification methods. Also in the past few years we saw a growing natural and biodynamic movement which is spreading around the region and contributing in higher the quality of certain wines, coming back to more indigenous grape varieties and abandoning some international styles that do not match perfectly with the tradition of the area.
Those wines however are still designed for drinking young, characterized by their sharpness, high acidity and a lightness that makes them an ideal accompaniment to the local cuisine. They cut through the heaviness of these dishes, such as porchetta (pork roasted with herbs) and abbacchio (young lamb) but also are a perfect match with today’s lighter recipe, the Puntarelle alla Romana.
Although its red wines are not as high profile, they are beginning to make a name for themselves. This is especially so for those made from Sangiovese, Cesanese, Montepulciano, Merlot and Nero Buono di Coro, also noted are Canaiolo and Ciliegiolo (you can refer to the close region of Tuscany). In total, there are more than 200 grape varieties in the area.
Like many Italian wine regions, Lazio’s vine heritage is ancient. Its first inhabitants were the Etruscans, though it was the Latins who gave the area its original name Latium. The Romans brought the region into another era by improving trade and agriculture, although after the collapse of the Roman Empire the land was neglected. Only in the 1870s, when Rome became the capital of Italy, did this wine region flourish once again.
The volcanic hills provide an excellent base for viticulture thanks to the fertile and porous (well-drained) land. Nourishment for the grapes is provided by lava and tufa soils, rich in potassium. This type of soil is particularly suited to white grapes as it ensures a good balance of acidity.
The proximity of the Tyrrhenian Sea to the west is also important; cool sea breezes temper the drier, warmer temperatures on the coast, while the mountainous area is subject to various microclimates despite being protected by the Apennines from the cold winds coming from the northeast.
As every week, our mission in this series of regional, traditional food and wine pairing is to talk about small, interesting, careful and respectful realities of each region that we think match with what me and Carlotta like the most in wines: genuinity.
As ambassadors of Lazio I choose Ribelà winery with their wine Saittole Bianco, blend of local white grape varieties.
Ribelà winery is a young reality that stands in the centuries-old winemaking tradition area called Frascati, within the Castelli Romani. Founded in 2014, it is run by Chiara Bianchi and Daniele Presutti. The name of the winery derives from the dialect word “ribelare”, which means to cover: the gesture of tucking the earth around the vine with a hoe or spade symbolizes a new beginning and at the same time a continuous renewal of tradition.
The 2 hectares of Ribelà vineyards are planted at 330 meters above sea level, on that volcanic soils which we were talking about before, and are biodynamic, as a way to respect the vital balance of the soil. The conformation of this area is within the valley: this allows the vineyard to have all the exposures. The vines are between 25 and 60 years old and are grown in pergola and row style. The varieties are typical of the region: Malvasia di Candia and Lazio, yellow, Tuscan and green Trebbiano, Bombino, Bellone for white wines; Cesanese, Aleatico, Sangiovese and Montepulciano for red wines.
Saittole wine is the result of a blend consisting mainly of Malvasia di Candia and Puntinata, as well as Trebbiano and a very small part of Bombino and Bellone. A traditional Frascati, therefore, made up of several varieties, united by the fact that all the vines grow without the help of chemicals or syntheses. In the cellar it continues with spontaneous fermentation in stainless steel vats and maceration on the skins for 3 days, with aging in the same vats. No clarification or filtration before bottling and addition of sulfur in a “homeopathic dose”.
Notes and characteristics: the wine is golden yellow, with a very bright and vivid colour but cloudy at the same time, which is not an indication of any faults in this case as we know that the wine was non-filtered. The nose is very aromatic, you have notes of yellow fruit, stone fruits like peaches and apricots, also dried apricots. It has certain notes of fruit candies, like citrus fruit candies, a mix of acidic and sweet notes, then dried yellow flowers and a lot of mineral notes in the background, wet stones and salty water. In the mouth the wine is incredibly fresh and again the minerality takes a huge place in the balance of the wine. The finish is pretty long with a sort of sour aftertaste like of almonds.
Why did we like the pairing with the Puntarelle? Because the aromas of the wine goes perfectly with the characteristics of the food, they accompany every bite without being too present but actually exalting it. In the mouth both the structure of the food and of the wine are not too heavy so they are both present but without getting your mouth too tired for neither the wine nor the food.
Chiara and Daniele work translates the characteristics of the magnificent Castelli Romani terroir into their wines, highlighting in particular its minerality which is the main characteristic why I loved their wine.
Carlotta’s food story:
Lazio’s regional cuisine, more specifically Rome’s cuisine, is one of my favorite ones in Italy. I’ve had the pleasure and fortune of visiting Italy’s capital a handful of times and each time I look forward to tasting its cuisine, from the more “mainstream” dishes like carbonara and cacio e pepe to lesser-known ones like saltimbocca alla romana… although I feel like all Roman dishes are well-known!
The local cuisine is based upon poor and “simple” ingredients, it is much less refined compared to, let’s say, Piedmontese cuisine. And that’s the beauty of it. The slightly greasy artichokes, wonderfully tomato-y pasta dishes and fatty pancetta make you want to eat more and more and more.
There are many local traditional products too, from Pecorino Romano – sprinkled on basically every pasta dish – to cavolo romanesco, the wonderfully intricate bright green cabbage. And then the meat! Oh, the meat… a further nod to the cuisine’s poor origins is the types of meat which are used within the traditional recipes, all known as the “quinto quarto”.
Quinto quarto is all the parts of an animal, especially bovines and ovines, that are left once all the more refined meat cuts are removed. It groups together tripe, liver, the heart, animelle, brain and tongue. And the Romans love them, expertly known how to prepare each animal part in a way that enriches its flavours and makes for an interesting dish.
Today’s recipe is actually on the lighter side of the spectrum of Roman cuisine, although I was extremely tempted to share a pasta recipe. A dish which can be found on almost every Roman table between December and March, as a side dish to accompany a large (and slightly intense meal) as a way of offering the palate a fresh, momentary “relief”: Puntarelle alla Romana.
Puntarelle are a bitter vegetable which usually comes enveloped in a thick layer of large leaves. That’s because they’re not really a vegetable on their own, but rather the heart of Catalogna, a leafy green. Similarly to artichokes, one peels back all the larger stems and leaves and is left with the vegetable’s heart: tender, fresh and wonderfully bitter.
A traditional vegetable grown in Lazio, the region awarded it an official recognition as a P.A.T (Prodotto Agroalimentare Tradizionale). The exterior Catalogna cannot be eaten raw, it must be cooked in order to remove some of the bitterness. Puntarelle on the other hand are eaten raw, and the slight bitterness is countered by the addition of preserved anchovy fillets and garlic.
Puntarelle alla Romana are a wonderfully crunchy, salty dish with just the right amount of garlic. They’re my favorite winter salad and I really recommend trying this recipe, which I perfected after a lot of trial and error.