Club Write-ups

Explorer Club
June 2023

Tim's Wine Market

When in Rome, what do the Romans drink? Inevitably, when the discussion turns to Old World wine regions, the Roman Empire and the wine trade go hand in hand. After all, the Romans planted grape vines almost everywhere they conquered, and engaged in vigorous trading of wine with the few neighbors they left alone. Fast forward 2,000 years, however, and look at a wine growing map of modern Italy. Many of the regions and wines you will recognize are hundreds of miles from Rome! Yet Lazio, the region surrounding Rome, is the country’s 6th-largest producer by volume, producing wine across 20 DOCs.

Approximately 90% of the wine produced in Lazio is white, made from heirloom varieties such as Malvasia and Trebbiano. Most of this wine is still funneled into the Eternal City itself, where it is sold in restaurants and consumed by locals. In recent years, many historical techniques of the region, such as skin contact white wines and amphora fermentation, have become popular again, particularly with younger winemakers. As for the remaining 10%, these are predominantly red wines, made from various combinations of Sangiovese and French varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Though the latter may appear to be a recent innovation, these and other Bordeaux varieties have a long history in Italy, Lazio included.

The history of this particular property dates back to the late 1940s, when many of Italy’s wine-growing regions were struggling to survive after being decimated by WWII. In much of southern Italy and Lazio, winemakers were focused on quantity over quality, often over-cropping and using modern chemical treatments to boost production. However, when the Prince Alberico Boncompagni Ludovisi was re-planting his vineyard holdings outside Rome, he focused on small production, eschewing chemicals and mechanization whenever possible. Today we would call his methods organic or low-intervention viticulture, but at the time it was simply tradition. 

In another unconventional decision, the prince decided to incorporate Bordeaux varieties in the re-planting, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and, most surprisingly, Semillon. The quality and unorthodox nature of the prince’s wines made them popular among Rome’s growing middle class, and winemakers from across Italy took notice. One such winemaker was the legendary Piero Antinori, who would later marry into the family and bring his substantial winemaking knowledge to the table. Today the estate is run by Antinori’s three daughters, who still bottle this wine under their grandfather’s label.

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