Beyond the visual spectacle of Rome and its monuments and galleries are the sensational tastes and smells of the city’s wine tradition. Tastings, tours and lessons about Italian wines offer an alternative indulgence to its numerous sites.
Although Lazio is not the most famous Italian wine region, eclipsed as it is by the world-renowned regions of Tuscany and Veneto, the Alban Hills of the Castelli Romani produce delicious and economical red and white wines. According to sommelier kristian Mellergaard-Hansen, lazio wine by tradition was produced for the people, as opposed to more aristocratic customers in other regions.
Mellergaard-Hansen however stresses that the production of Lazio wine has become more sophisticated in its methods and standards over time and has something different to offer from the more commercialised vineyards in other regions. For those who live in the eternal city, Lazio also has the advantage that it is closer to Rome. For an adventure into Rome’s wine country, Mellergaard-Hansen arranges excursions to vineyards in Frascati, just 20 km southeast of Rome, as part of an organisation he co-founded entitled Wine and Food of Rome. He says that these trips out of the city centre to taste and smell another aspect of Roman culture “offer a break from the stones and canvases into a multi-sensory experience.” He also organises wine tastings, market walks and lessons about the entire spectrum from north to south of Italian wines in relation to another of the country’s famous cultural attractions, the culinary arts.
To experience Lazio wine in the city centre there is Palatium wine bar, a venue that features wine and delicacies made only in Lazio. Palatium is located near the Spanish Steps and offers Frascati, Cesanese and other local favourites. It also features about 350 traditional local products including cheeses, cured meats and the beloved amatriciana and carbonara pasta. Other cosy wine bars frequented and recommended by wine lovers and wine experts that offer a large spectrum of wines produced in and beyond Lazio include Enoteca Ferrara in Trastevere and Angolo Divino in Campo de’ Fiori.
Another company, Context Travel, which specialises in walking tours, offers culinary expeditions and talks located in the most traditional enoteche (wine bars) in Rome. Context Travel believes that to understand Italian wine “is to understand a part of the Italian soul, and millenarian traditions linking people to their land and gastronomical traditions.” The company offers an in-depth tutorial on wine history, techniques and the production calendar, as well as a comparative tasting. Sommelier Daniela Paris, who leads the introductory wine lesson and comparative tastings, says it is important to learn about the traditions of Italy’s wine while visiting Rome, because “our land is so much a part of our culture.” American resident in Rome Spring Berlandt, curious about Italy’s relationship to its agriculture, has created a social venue for any wine expert or novice interested in meeting people and socialising over a glass of fine wine.
Through the online vehicle for special interest groups entitled MeetUp, she has arranged monthly symposia geared to wine consumption and culture and its counterpart. Her group is called Ex-Pat Wine Enthusiasts in Rome. Berlandt says, “In addition to the sensual experience beyond the effects of alcohol, I love wine because of its association with company.” Berlandt has also organised a series of introductory classes throughout March in wine bars in the heart of Rome, led by an English-speaking sommelier. She hopes the classes will develop her palette and allow fellow wine-lovers to explore the regions, grapes and traditions of Italian winemaking as well as foster friendships. Commenting on what attracts her to Italian wine, she said, “Italy is unique because each region grows its own indigenous grape, so there are endless things to discover.”
Indeed Italy has almost 500 grape varieties, more than anywhere else in world. Another social venue for those curious about wine is the studio of Vino Roma, located in the Monti district. It offers frequent events such as wine and cheese lunches, regularly-scheduled wine tastings, and also a seminar on Italy’s sparkling wines, Prosecco and Asti, in an event called “Sparkling Saturdays”. For a more serious edification on Italian wine, there are several organisations that provide sommelier certificates. Associazione Italiana Sommelier (AIS) and the Rome International Wine School offer various levels of certification.
To learn more specifically about Castelli Romani wines the Castelli Romani branch of AIS has various courses and events throughout the spring. The matrimony of Rome’s people to their culinary and wine traditions can be relished amid the city’s monumental wonders and beyond in the fertile volcanic countryside among Lazio’s lakes and rolling hills.