Nabbing the spotlight in the same room with a charismatic, handsome and beloved older sibling is difficult to do. The magnetic attraction of Rome often overshadows the tempered personalities of the regions surrounding it—particularly the rest of Lazio, the region it so noncommittally calls home.
Quiet on the outside, Umbria, Marche and Abruzzo are subtlely rebellious on the inside. These three emerging regions—and Lazio itself—are poised to become a new center of gravity for Italian wine. With a treasure trove of exciting native varieties, diverse territorial expressions and hard-working producers, central Italy may write this nation’s next enological chapter.
The expectation in Abruzzo is already palpable. Stubbornly rocky and rustic, the region extends from mare to monti, offering many areas of grape-growing potential in between. Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is a velvety rich red, and a rosé called Cerasuolo is made from the same grape. The region’s whites have attracted world attention thanks to their favorable pricing.
The Marche includes a curious promontory of land that juts into the sea: Mount Conero is home to a robust Montepulciano-based wine called Rosso Conero. One of the prized wines of the region, straw-colored Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi,pairs well with crustaceans and fish.
Umbria is another exciting winemaking nucleus. With traditions handed down by the Etruscans, the “green heart of Italy” offers fresh Orvieto whites and rare botrytis dessert wines. The hilltop hamlet of Montefalco produces a structured red with a unique grape possibly imported by Franciscan friars. Lazio is creating buzz thanks to its storied Frascati whites and up-and-coming Cesanese del Piglio reds.
Montepulciano wine from Abruzzo revived Hannibal’s army after its epic trek across the Alps in 218 B.C.
COMMON GRAPE VARIETIES
Grechetto: One of the principal components of Orvieto white wine and Muffa Nobile dessert wine, Grechetto shows wonderful results in Umbria’s tufa and volcanic soils.
Pecorino: An up-and-coming white grape from Abruzzo, Pecorino makes “grape of sheep,” underlines the tight bond between farmers and herders.
Verdicchio: Tightly linked to the Marche, Verdicchio is recognized by its verdant aromas of dried sage, citrus and cut grass. It leads the pack of easy-drinking Italian whites so popular abroad.
Cesanese: A little red grape with big plans, Cesanese carries a huge weight as the indigenous variety that promises to shine the spotlight on Lazio’s untapped potential.
Montepulciano: Not to be confused with the Tuscan town of the located down Italy’s Adriatic flank and is the base of velvety Montepulciano d’Abruzzo reds, among others.
Sagrantino: Once used for sweet sacramental wines, Sagrantino is a uniquely tannic grape found only in Montefalco, Umbria.