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WINE 2014: A new look at Lazio

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WINE 2014, a trade delegation to the Lazio region surrounding Rome, brought together journalists, importers and top area vintners. A joint effort of Aspin, Italy-America Chamber of Commerce New York and Italy-America Chamber of Commerce West, we were introduced to impressive, little-known wines, mostly from the province of Frosinone.

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Wine lovers should consider a summer getaway here. Up-and-coming wineries, intriguing medieval towns and spa destinations dot a restful landscape, where agritourism is welcomed graciously.

Viticulture in Lazio dates back to the 9th century B.C., but not until 2008 did it pique recent global interest, when cesanese del piglio became Frosinone's first DOCG grape. This earthy, high-acid red is redolent of violets, roses and tobacco, with mascara cherry notes and robust tannins.

Cesanese's recognition has brought other native varieties into the limelight, especially cesanese di affile, considered del piglio's more refined cousin. Passerina, a refreshing, lemony white wine, is starting to get its due.

Although a few locals work solely with French grapes, the most captivating wines are from indigenous vines. Three producers stand out for making strides with them: Azienda Agricola Marcella Giuliani, Azienda Agricola Maria Elena Sinibaldi and Tenuta Colfiorito--all available for tastings by appointment.

Bring along an interpreter when visiting Giuliani and Sinibaldi. Frosinone's Chamber of Commerce can provide referrals to bi-lingual tour guides, who are experts at organizing outings to points of interest between winery visits.

Begin your explorations at Tenuta Colfiorito, an organically certified farm, a few kilometers east of Rome. Owners, Paola and Peppe Ramondelli, have turned their hilltop estate into an oasis, where guests can stay in charming converted farmhouses set in lush gardens.

The property is on volcanic soil, and enjoys a breezy, but rainy Mediterranean climate. Its thirty hectares of vineyard and 5,000-tree olive grove produce excellent wine and exceptionally smooth, fruity olive oil. The Ramondellis, in conjunction with winemaker, Daniele Di Mambro, have three current releases:

2013 Rosa del Venti, is a savory sparkling sangiovese, with a lovely floral nose--great as an aperitif.

2013 Sorgente, a fifty-fifty blend of grecco and malvasia, is a graceful, citrusy white, with aromas of acacia and a bitter almond finish.

2012 Villa Coccela, 40% cesanese di piglio and 60% sangiovese, has scents of violet, mascara cherry and vanilla, which persist on the complex palate.

An hour south, Fiuggi makes a restorative hub for trips to the two remaining wineries. Famed for its curative waters, spa hotels abound. Their spirit of relaxation is reflected in the town's leisurely lifestyle. Enjoy the simple pleasure of a passegiatta, the community evening walk, when residents amble into bars and gelaterias before dinner.

Our group stayed at Hotel Ambasciatori, located in city center, noteworthy for its old-world ambiance, attentive service and lavish buffets. Its special draw is the multi-level, soul-soothing Tangerine Spa. In addition to the usual pampering, the staff offers individualized hydrotherapy programs.

Azienda Agricola Marcella Giuliani is just twenty minutes west of Fiuggi. Ms. Giuliani explains she was "called by her roots" to tend a small patch of vineyard and olive trees, part of a larger family estate established in 1870. Her dream has been to restore cesanese del piglio and passerina to their deserved glory. Once the darlings of Papal courts in the Middle Ages, modern times found them near obscurity.

The winery has been completely renovated, with new stainless steel vats and French oak barrels for aging. In 2007, Ms. Giuliani converted to organic farming. Efforts are paying off in praise from Gambero Rosso and other important publications. With winemaker, Dr. Ricardo Cotarella, she is releasing wines as lovely and sophisticated as the lady herself.

2008 Dives Riserva Cesanese del Piglio, DOCG, is full-bodied, and aromatic with plum and flowers. Twelve months aging in new French barriques adds spice, vanilla and roundness.

2011 Alagna Superiore Cesanese del Piglio, DOCG, is a more typical, stainless steel-aged example--intensely floral with earth and cherry, broad and deep flavors.

2011 Passito de Cesanese, a purple-red dessert wine, has a precise balance of bright acid and sweet red fruits. Mild tannins give it backbone.

Azienda Agricola Maria Elena Sinibaldi is also a short trip from Fiuggi. When meeting Ms. Sinibaldi, one sees wine in her DNA. She recounts fondly that her first job, at age seven, was in her maternal grandparents' winery--only she had small enough hands to dislodge grape skins clogging the fermenter.

This tiny powerhouse of a woman is passionate about preserving autochthonous vines, and is credited with rescuing the ancient bommino from extinction. Her philosophy is to create, "...wine that is made (only) from grapes." To preserve varietal integrity and terroir, she uses minimal cellar intervention, and for aging prefers stainless steel or concrete vessels that don't impart flavor. Her wines have purity and character.

2013 Passerina del Frusinate, I.G.T., is a white blend of 80% passerina, and 20% combined bellone, malvasia puntinata and pagadebiti, all grown in clay soil. Bright yellow with intense aromas of tree fruit and acacia, it is full-bodied, with a flinty, satisfying finish.

2012 Bosco Castello Frusinate Rosso, 40% cesanese di affile, 40% bommino and 20% ciliegiolo. Austere and multi-layered at the same time, it has a fine, persistent nose of red fruit, a silky texture and long, dry finish.

2012 Bivi Cesanese del Piglio, DOCG is cesanese at its best: earthy, floral and complex with cherry, red berry and leather notes. It is more savory than fruity, with firm tannins, giving it good aging potential.

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