Frascati wine country: Rising on Italian wine scene

The view of Cantine Santa Benedetta from the vineyard.
Cantina del Tufaio’s grapes.
Santa Benedetta’s Complexus, a blend of Malvasia and Bellone.
Antonio Benedetti worked all over the world before returning to his family winery.
Claudio Loreti in his Cantina del Tufaio vineyard in Zagarolo.

If wine is high on most everyone’s to-do list when they come to Italy, you don’t have to go to Tuscany or Piedmont for a taste.

The Alban Hills southeast of Rome are covered with vineyards producing underrated wine that is growing in popularity nationally and internationally. Cesanese. Trebbiano. Bellone.

These are all wines from Lazio that are inexpensive, tasty and fun to discover and take home. About two dozen wineries covering more than 1,100 acres (472 hectares) are around the pretty, historic town of Frascati.

Its beautiful countryside and the wineries have tasting rooms with excellent antipasti that go well with different wines. Also, take some time to discover the towns of Frascati and Castel San Pietro Romano, a typical Italian village in the hills.

My American friend David Peters at Santa Benedetta.
Antonio Benedetti points out some history at his Benedetta winery.

Things to do

1 • Wine tastings. Lazio wineries have tasting rooms. All have reasonable prices and include finger food. The beauty of Lazio wineries is they don’t have the rep of other regions’ wines and aren’t nearly as crowded. You can talk to the owner, the winemaker and see the facilities. Below are two places I visited and recommend.

Info: Cantine Santa Benedetta, Via Frascati Colonna 35, Monte Porzio Catone, Italy, 39-06-941-7511,,, 9:30 a.m.-1 p.m., 3:30-6:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 9:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Sunday. Wine tastings €30.

Located just a 10-minute drive east of Frascati, the oldest winery in the Frascati area has a tasting room that’s 324 years old and made of polished wood with seven glass chandeliers. Try their Complexus, a Malvasia-Bellone blend.

Dipping biscotti (tarallucci) in wine in Santa Benedetta’s tasting room.

Cantina del Tufaio, Via Cancellata di Mezzo 30, Zagarolo, Italy, 39-328-313-9537,,,
9 a.m.-12:45 p.m., 4:30-6:30 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Sunday. 

Wine tastings €40 per person for two people and €35 per person for four.
Call for an appointment. Started in 1881, owner Claudio Loreti has some good stories about wine production in the old days. 

Try their Malvasia, Trebbiano and Pinot Bianco. It’s nine miles (15 kilometers) east of Frascati.

Claudio Loreti in his tasting room.

2 • Frascati. The base for many winery excursions is worth a day trip in itself (which we’ll address in a future blog).

It’s about 17 miles (30 kilometers) southeast of Rome and has direct train and bus access. Frascati (pop. 22,000) is covered with 16th century villas built as status symbols by the popes, cardinals and Roman nobles. Visit the beautiful gardens of Villa Aldobrandini, a five-story Baroque palace looming over Frascati’s main square.

The Museum of Tuscolano is dedicated to local history. And check out Cantina Bonasera, a wine bar started by Antonio Benedetti, owner of Cantine Santa Benedetta.

3 • Castel San Pietro Romano. Such an idyllic Italian village, the famed Italian movie studio of Cinecitta used it for numerous movie sites after World War II.

They included the 1953 film Bread, Love, and Dreams starring a 26-year-old Gina Lollobrigida.
The town also has the remains of a 13th century fortress, Rocca dei Colonna, which is still used for nativity scenes during Christmas.

The little town piazza is a must stop. You can see old men playing cards and drinking €1 wine from water glasses.

Me in the little main piazza of Castel San Pietro Romano

Then and now: How they improved Lazio wines

Lazio’s fine wine industry is only about 30 years old. Before then, this area was assigned the task of supplying Rome with its wine.

For 2.8 million people even back in 1970, it meant quantity over quality. That changed in the last generation when the sons of traditional Lazio winemakers took over.

Men like Antonio Benedetti, who has worked all over the world, took over Cantine Santa Benedetta winery. Due to technological advancements, area winemakers learned they could increase the quality without increasing production costs.

Lazio wines skyrocketed in taste but prices stayed relatively the same. It also helps that Lazio’s vineyards are on volcanic soil.

The more natural soil allows fewer sulfites and preservatives, ingredients that give wine drinkers headaches.

Today you can find Lazio wines sharing space in Rome restaurants with Tuscan and Piedmont wines. Santa Benedetta also sells 30 percent of its wine to 47 U.S. states.

Antonio Benedetta with John Henderson in his vineyard.

How to get there

Drive. The problem with wineries anywhere is they’re in the countryside and rarely on bus routes.

You can take a train to Frascati but then you’re stuck. You can rent cars in Rome starting at about $20 a day.

Where to eat:

ConTatto, Via Gioberti 11, Frascati, 39-06-2170-0957,, 12:30-3 p.m., 7:30-11 p.m. Friday-Sunday, 7:30-11 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, Thursday.
Eclectic menu of pasta and rice dishes starting at €18 and meat and fish such as pigeon in potato cream starting at €26.

Where to stay:

Il Casale delle Ginestre B&B, Localita Monte Arzillo, Tragliatella, Italy, 39-06-622-79105, 39-333-609-5553,,

Only a 10-minute drive down the hill from the village of Castel San Pietro Romano, this B&B is in a 500-square-meter, 120-year-old stone house with three two-room apartments and two flats with shared bathroom. Features a swimming pool with a fabulous view and an excellent breakfast. Doubles start at €50.

Me at Casale delle Ginestre

For more information:

Visit Italy, Piazza Marconi 1, Frascati, 39-06-942-0331,