Wine grapes have been grown in the Latium area since the days of the Roman Empire, when poets such as Horace sang the praises of wine [source: Wine Country]. The region is sunny and temperate, but not uniform -- drier and warmer on the coast, and cooler and wetter inland. Latium vineyards now produce more than 200 varieties of grapes [source: Wein Plus].
White grapes dominate -- Malvasia, Trebbiano, Sauvignon Blanc and Voigner. The reds include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cesanese, Montepulciano, Sangiovese, Syrah and Petit Verdot [source: Wine Country].
Reds tend to flourish at lower elevations, so those grapes thrive in the drained marshland. But things get very interesting away from the low plains, along the gentle slopes of the hills and mountains in the area.
Much of the soil in the Latium region is volcanic [source: Info Roma]. Volcanoes stud the west coast of Italy. A fault line runs the length of the country, and -- as if that weren't enough -- another one crosses the country from east to west, hitting the west coast just south of Rome and north of Naples [source: BBC]. That makes for a great deal of geological activity in central Italy.
The Colli Albani is the largest volcano in Latium. Although it hasn't actually erupted for more than two millennia, it isn't believed to be extinct. In an 11-month period in the late 1980s, the area experienced a seismic swarm - more than 3,000 earthquakes [source: Seach].
All that volcanic activity might be bad news for locals, but it's good news for local wine. Volcanic rock is porous, and it tends to drain well at the surface but store water at lower depths [source: Cox]. Volcanic soil is fertile, full of potassium salts and phosphorus, nutrients on which grapevines thrive [sources: Compost for Soils, Wine Country].
Volcanic soil is especially suited to produce the white wines for which Latium is known. The high potassium ensures that the grapes have good acidity. As you may notice with wines from some Napa Valley terroirs -- many of which also have volcanic soil -- the soil has a high mineral content, which is reflected in the minerality of the wine.
Which whites and reds are worth a sip? On the next page, we'll take a look at some of Latium's DOC wines.