Introduction & History to Lazio & Rome Wine
Rome and Lazio have finally put themselves on the map in the wine world, but it's an extremely recent phenomenon, making a name for themselves in the last 10 years. Sadly, despite thousands of years of winemaking, we are still quite slow to have achieved any international levels of recognition, as wine quality always gave way to quantity for a city which has always been associated with mass tourism.
But that said, for those who venture out into the countryside, you'll be charmed by places like Olevano Romano (Olevano takes its name from oil - ole, and vano - vino), enjoying the perfect escape from the crowds and chaos of Rome.
We have the Phoenicians to thank for kickstarting a flourishing viticulture in Italy and not long after, it became a central part of live on the peninsula, just as it was already in Greece and other parts of the civilized world. For the ancient Greeks and Romans, wine was deeply connected to religion with the cults of Dionysus (Greek) and Bacchus (Roman) maintaining a consistent popularity throughout antiquity.
“Wine is a perfect cure for heaviness and sorrow.”
- SENECA, ROMAN PLAYWRIGHT AND PHILOSOPHER, (4 BC – 65 AD)
However, ancient wine was very different to what we know as wine today. Without the technology we now take for granted, wine was typically drinkable for up to a year if kept in the right conditions. The ancients did employ some tricks to prolong the lifespan of their wine, including adding tree resin to the mix - they weren’t so hung up on the concept that wine should only be made from grapes as we are today!
During the early years of ancient Rome, wine was reserved almost exclusively for the members of high society. However, over time, wine became more accessible, and for a period during the Roman Republic, slaves would receive 5 liters of wine per week as a government ration – this was done as it was thought to keep the slaves healthy and happy, and therefore productive.
As wine production expanded and became more sophisticated, as did the process for determining quality. Like today, the territory and soil became an important consideration when grading wine, and the Romans created a classification system not too dissimilar from the modern Frence ‘Cru’ system – but a lot less complicated.
As the power of Rome expanded and the Roman Empire became the undisputed master of the Mediterranean, the upper and middle classes found themselves less concerned with matters of state, and more interested in entertainment and indulgent. With this, the popularity of wine grew further to the extent where wine was commonplace in any household, regardless of social status.
Ancient Rome’s wine legacy still resonates today; their traditional winemaking methods can be seen in modern vinification approaches, and we even still have some the same grape varieties in cultivation.
On this page you'll find some of our favorite wineries, restaurants and places to visit - and don't be afraid to try some local wines with some local, traditional cuisine - as in Italy, what grows together, goes together.
Read more about the history of Roman wine in our dedicated post: Roman Wine Guide – From Ancient Rome to Today
Not knowing where to go in Rome can set you up for disaster, as relying on Tripadvisor will often lead you in the wrong direction.
Sadly Rome is full of tourist spots looking to lure the unsuspecting in with a 'ciao bella', or a red checker table cloth and fiasco of Chianti in the window to give you the perception of a traditional spot.
One other thing to note is that nearly 90% of all the cornetto, or croissants, come from a few companies who distribute them all over Italy where they will simply be reheated from frozen and filled to give you the idea they were fresh baked. (p.s...you'll start to notice which ones they are as you pass through Auto Grill locations from Lombardy down to Calabria, with identical choices).
Restaurants we enjoy:
Drinks and Cocktails:
- Our terrace at Palazzo Nainer - with great views AND great wine, cocktails and small bites!
- Salotto42 - small lounge in a beautiful piazza for cocktails, hand-crafted mixers
- Blackmarket Hall - another great but larger local speakeasy
- da Camillo Navona - for an aperitivo (not for food), directly in Piazza Navona in front of Bernini's fountain
Other unique places in Rome:
- Viaggio nei Fori - impressive light shows in the Imperial Forums
- Chiesa del Gesù - this church has some of the most breathtaking frescoes
- HB Roma Profumeria - for those who appreciate a sensorial journey, HB is a historical perfumerie, with countless boutique, high-end brands of 'real' perfumes (these are not the commercial ones found in department stores!).
With Roscioli Caffè, Roscioli Forno, Rimessa Roscioli, and Salumeria Roscioli, you can experience a real Roman breakfast, lunch, aperitivo and dinner in just one day.
Lazio boasts well over 2,000 years of winemaking, thanks to the Etruscans who were already making wine prior to the ancient Romans. Although sadly, if you ask most to name a Lazio wine-making zone, grape or if they have ever heard of Cesanese, most people will shake their head. Much of the wine coming from the countryside outside Rome for centuries was never destined for bottles, but rather bulk wine served in carafes at local trattorias for the mass tourism, which has always been an issue.
That said, there has been a noteworthy shift to quality in the last 20 years, and below you'll find some of our favorites in the Lazio region.
Most famous grapes:
Cesanese (most famous - red) Trebbiano, Malvasia, Passerina and Pecorino (whites), among international grapes like Merlot and Cabernet
Most famous regions:
Olevano Romano, Piglio, Orvieto, Montefiascone, Frascati, Castelli Romani
Artisan Wineries in Lazio
One of the first pioneers in this volcanic lakebed region was Damiano Ciolli - one of the first bottling in Olevano Romano, and only as of less than 20 years ago. Ciolli is now making wines which rival some of the world's most famous regions (aging his Cirsium for 10 years will make you believe you just opened up a grand cru from Burgundy).
His next door neighbor and student, Alberto Giacobbe is also making beautiful wines from Cesanese and Passerina, among many others who we love - Marco Falcone - the first using amphorae in Piglio.
(P.S...we exclusively secured one amphora and one buried qvevri for our Wine Club members (see video below - an interesting paradox - a virologist farming biodynamically), Riccardi Reale (also biodynamic), Berucci (another natural winemaker) and La Visciola.)
If you ever get to Frascati in the Castelli Romani area, another must visit is Casal Pilozzo - who now owns a previous home of Orson Welles and Tyrone Power which also sits above a cellar which dates possibly up to 1500 years ago. Colle Gaio is one of the most fascinating Malvasia's of the area with immense ageing potential (some date to 30 years in their cellar) - again competing with some of the best wine regions in the world. You'll find both a mix of local grapes as well as international grapes.
And if you know Super-Tuscans, one particular producer in the region makes world-class wines, San Giovenale/Habemus, called Super-Lazio's or Super-Roma's from the more familiar international grapes of Syrah, Cabernet Franc, and Grenache, among others. In fact, we recently privately selected five of his best barrels of 100 to make a private and exclusive blend for our Wine Club 2 members in Spring 2022 - only 500 bottles produced for our Wine Club.
- Damiano Ciolli - for some of the best Cesanese (Letizia speaks English)
- Alberto Giacobbe - great Cesanese (student of Damiano but he doesn't speak much English)
- Casal Pilozzo - has been the residence of Orson Welles and Tyrone Power and makes stunning wines for Frascati (some with decades of age on them)
- Migrante - in Olevano Romano
- Cantina Falcone - Piglio
Restaurants in the countryside:
- Osteria Terremoto, Genazzano - casual, rustic, nice views
- Sora Maria e Arcangelo, Olevano Romano - nice wine list, nicer dining
- Antonello Colonna, Labico - Spa/Hotel/Michelin star restaurant (40 mins by car or 1 hour by train from Rome). Great wine list, nice spa, modern architecture, nearly everything they cook with comes from their property. A perfect way to relax in the countryside and escape the beautiful chaos of Rome.
Looking for more vineyards and wineries in Lazio? Meet our network of Lazio winemakers here:
Food & Cuisine
Of course, to pair perfectly with your local Cesanese, Lazio is famous for three traditional pastas - Amatriciana, Cacio e Pepe and Carbonara. But most are not aware that Carbonara actually wasn't really invented by Italians (which is why we serve Cacio e Pepe at Rimessa Roscioli during our Wine Tasting Dinner).
So, who actually invented it? Well, there is a tiny debate about it but most widely recognized is the Americans during WW2, as they laughed at the idea of a meal based on just pasta and cheese - hence adding some protein to bulk it up with bacon and eggs. Rome is famous for it's guanciale or pork cheeks, which is why it's impossible to have a better Carbonara outside Rome - there is simply no comparison when substituting pancetta or bacon!
A lesser known tradition are Gnocchi alla Romana. Although they are called gnocchi, they have nothing to do with the pieces of gnocchi you’ve probably tried before made with potatoes. This gnocchi is made with semolina flour and is a regional variant made only in Lazio.
And for the true carnivores, you have the famous Roman Oxtail Stew or coda alla vaccinara or Roman style veal cutlets or saltimboca alla romana, as a main dish if you haven't already had a coronary after the carbonara.
Explore our portfolio of Lazio wines, from our current wine club collections and past shipments here:
Our final tip...
Gallivant around Rome at night! The city is beautifully illuminated and much, much less crowded. It's really the best time to do your sightseeing, especially during the summer...
Take a bottle of wine or picnic dinner to the Roman Forum or look out points on the Campidoglio, discreetly and respectfully, and feel like an Emperor or Empress for the night.
Enjoy your visit to Rome and Lazio, and we hope to see you again. If you are traveling around Italy and need any other recommendations, please email us - we are happy to recommend wineries and restaurants.
"Rome is the city of echoes, the city of illusions, and the city of yearning."
– Giotto, Italian Painter & Architect
We have the largest, and fastest growing winemaker video collection in the world...
...from across Italy and sometimes beyond!
We have visited over 600 wineries, almost-exclusively artisans, to bring you the most authentic Italian experience - directly to the vineyards, cellar, and true story of the wine.
The winemaker is the protagonist, and our mission is to help them share their story.
New videos are published weekly. Click below to start learning about Italian wine and culture.