With enough attractions, cultural sights, museums and churches to keep you busy exploring for a lifetime, most people choose to spend their time in Rome focused on sightseeing in the historic center. But for those who need a break from city life, there’s a lot to explore just outside Rome’s doorstep. Lazio is a seriously underrated region in Italy, often obscured by its northern neighborhoods of Tuscany and Umbria, but it offers visitors plenty of rustic charm, local food and wine, and unique cultural traditions.
The Castelli Romani, or “Roman Castles”, lie just south of Rome and is an easy train ride from Termini Station. This verdant area is filled with towns that were notable for their villas and summer homes of Rome’s nobility, who flocked to this area for cooler temperatures and cleaner air in the summer months. It is also extremely picturesque, with towns perched on the edge of two volcanic lakes, Lago Albano and Lago di Nemi.
This mineral-rich soil has helped the area cultivate highly lauded products and develop longstanding culinary traditions that continue to this day. Many of the towns are well-known for their own local delicacy, such as Genzano for its rustic country bread, Nemi for its wild strawberries, Ariccia for its porchetta and Frascati for its white wine.
Lazio is predominantly known for its white wines made with fragrant Malvasia and Trebbiano grapes and Frascati is practically synonymous with its white wine tradition. Frascati wine was one of the country’s first wines to be recognized with DOC status in 1966, a quality assurance that indicates it has Controlled Designation of Origin, while the Frascati Superiore wine has an even higher DOCG recognition (Controlled Designation of Origin Guaranteed) and abides by stricter geographical regulations.
I recently had the chance to learn about Frascati’s famous wines at the lovely Minardi Frascati Winery owned by one of Frascati’s oldest families. This 9th generation winery is a beautiful property surrounded by vineyards and olive groves and boasts a rustic but curated aesthetic, making for a perfect foray into Lazio’s enological heritage. Today, the winery is operated by Umberto, his wife Nadia and their son Alfredo who open the doors of their cantina to intrepid travelers eager to discover the “Golden Wine” of Rome. One step into their cellar had my eyes widen at all the perfectly imperfectly arranged knick-knacks, wine paraphernalia and vintage objects – a photographer’s paradise.
We began our tour with a walk through Frascati – stopping for some house wine and pizza bianca in the town – before talking a walk through the Minardi vineyard and cellar with the family. The estate continues to produce its wines through historic methods and has received notoriety in recent years for its Cannellino di Frascati DOCG, a sweet concoction classified as the Best Dessert Wine in Lazio by esteemed wine personality Luca Maroni. Afterwards, we enjoyed a beautiful meal accompanied by the Minardi winery’s wines, including the well-known Frascati Superiore DOCG and a Rosso Lazio IGT called Vagnolo, a red wine made with Cesanese grapes and Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. Our dishes were seasonal, flavorful and beautifully presented by the chef – I especially loved the pasta with artichokes, pecorino and mentuccia, a sweet mint.
The Minardi Winery offers a number of wine experiences paired with cooking classes and horseback riding lessons. For more details and to arrange a visit, see the details below.