Perhaps you’ve never heard of it, but Cesanese is poised to become one of the hottest rediscovered red grapes in central Italy. More importantly, it’s being credited with putting Lazio—the region of capital city Rome—on the nation’s wine map.
“Among the rare red wines of Lazio, Cesanese del Piglio is the most interesting,” says Rome-based wine historian Andrea Gabbrielli. “Today, the market wants wines with identity and personality and even though Cesanese is an antique variety, it represents an exciting new trend.”
With storied winemaking regions like Tuscany, Umbria and Campania as neighbors, Lazio’s winemaking identity has often been overshadowed. It’s largely associated with the quaffable wines of Frascati and the Castelli Romani served in clay pitchers at the neighborhood osterie of Rome to quench the thirst of their unruly patrons.
Cesanese gives credibility to Lazio’s growing wine culture. Produced near the hilltop hamlet of Piglio, Cesanese del Piglio is one of three Denominazione Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) wine designations in Lazio. It boasts winemaking roots that date back to 133 B.C. and the ancient Romans who first recognized the favorable position and good soils of the area.
The DOCG area, which encompasses villages in the province of Frosinone, is sheltered by Monte Scalambra and the hills of Paliano and Anagni. Southwest exposures keep the climate temperate, and frost is rare. Soils are red and dark in color, and volcanic tufa stone is common in the Colli Albani area.
“Cesanese perfectly expresses its territory of origin,” says Claudio Latagliata, of Principe Pallavicini. “It is versatile and gives surprising results, considering that until recently Lazio was wrongly seen as devoted only to the production of white wines.” Cesanese, says Latagliata, is his estate’s best-selling wine.
There are two subvarieties of Cesanese: Comune (common) and d’Affile (with origins in the nearby town of Affile). Cesanese tends to offer fine aromas of forest floor, mulberry, blueberry, violet and juniper. Warmth, balance and elegant tannins also characterize the wines. Pairing possibilities include potato gnocchi, polenta and sausage, pork ribs, abbacchio (lamb) or sheep stew.