Grazie, castelli romani

We all drank Castelli Romani wines in our youth, feeling smug and sophisticated
that we had graduated from Mogen David. So having a chance to visit the wine-growing region south of Rome last December was a nostalgic visit for me. In fact, years earlier, my husband and I had driven into Frascati, a small Italian town in
the region, because I had read that Romans took the train to Frascati on Sunday
afternoons to sit at outdoor tables. But when we arrived, there was no place
to park. There was, of course, but we still had our North American driver mentality, and when there’s no 10-acre parking lot, that means no parking, so we
left without any experience whatsoever.

Castelli Romani is a series of hill towns. After the barbarian invasions of
the Middle Ages, the Italians built castles to defend themselves. The first
Latin city was built here long before the existence of Rome. A volcanic mountain,
Monte Calbo, is partially responsible for the very rich soil, ideal for growing
vines and olives. The towns are lined with chestnut trees and oaks, and even
in December, there are still roses blooming.

Our guide tells us the Romans still come hre for weekends. In fact, rich
Romans have weekend villas in Frascati. And in spring, they flock to Nemi, the
most unspoiled town in the Castelli Romani for strawberry season. In the valleys
nearby, flower farms supply markets all over Europe, and the woods are full
of violets and wild cyclamen.

We stop for an early morning organic wine tasting at Villa Germaine, an estate
built in the early 1900s perched on a hill in the rural landscape of Colli Albani
near the town of Ariccia and overlooking the towns of Velletri, Castelgandolfo
and Frascati. The Gozzi family who owns the estate has vineyards and olive groves
as well as a citrus orchard, using natural methods of cultivation. The villa
is set in a park of rose gardens and lime trees. A spread of breads, sharp dry
cheeses, crusty bruschetta and olives is laid out in the wine-tasting room on
a large oak table in front of a roaring fire. The three-story villa accommodates
guests in suites furnished in period furniture. Only 35 kilometres from Rome,
the Villa Germaine is an ideal place to stay and visit the hill towns of the