Ancient Rome’s Lasting Contribution to Wine Making

“It has passed into a proverb, that wisdom is overshadowed by wine.
Pliny the Elder (Caius Plinius Secundus), Roman officer and encyclopedist, (23-79)

Wine-Roman

The properties of wine making are very possibly Rome’s most lasting contribution to the world today. What began as wild grapes that grew throughout the mediterranean region, cultivated by the Greeks and Etruscans, and embellished to an art by the Romans, is now considered an essential ingredient to socializing and fine dining.

The rise of the ancient Roman Empire saw an increase in technology and awareness of wine making which spread to all parts of the empire. Because the Romans held the attitude that wine was a daily necessity of life, wine became democratic and available to everyone regardless of class. By the 2nd century BC, wine and grape production soared. Large slave-run vineyards dotted the peninsula along the coastline. As the Roman empire expanded, wine and viticulture was introduced throughout the regions to ensure steady supplies for Roman soldiers and colonists. Conquered territories, such as France, Germany, Portugal and Spain traded with the Romans for wine even before the Romans annexed the regions and cultivated vineyards.

Unlike the Greeks and Etruscans, the Romans took a deep interest in the art of wine making. They cared about the quality of the wine, its taste, its aroma and its flavor. Some of the earlier wines, which tended to be harsh, could be ignited due to the high amount of alcohol, so it was necessary to dilute wine with seawater. Flavor changing properties were added to wine including honey, herbs and/or spices of all sorts, and chalk added to reduce acidity.

Roman wine storage
Roman wine storage

Roman historians Pliny the Elder and Horace claimed the best wine to be Falerno, produced in northern Campania, the region of Naples. Martial, however, prefered the wine of Albano, from the same area south of Rome that today produces the popular wines of the castelli romani. And finally Horace, who was fond of Caleno (a wealthy persons wine), Massico, and Cecubo, produced near Fondi, in the south of Lazio, which he considers “generous and strong.”

Almost all of these wines were preferably stored for generations in beautiful amphorae, slender and elegant, with elongated handles and necks. Horace gives specific instructions on how to taste aged wine, stating the best to be the Albano which was aged for nine years. You sip the wine, he says, together with your lover.

So how has all of this Roman viticulture carried down through the centuries to our wine making practices today?

To begin with, they developed the attitude that wine should be available to everyone (populi) and established its importance in everyday life. As a result, vineyards were planted and cultivated throughout the Roman Empire whose borders encompassed most of Europe. As far as wine production, they introduced props and trellises in wine growing, improved the presses used for extracting juice, and classified which groups of grapes grew best in which climates. They sought to develop a better taste with aged wine, and they were the first to store it in wooden barrels. It is likely that they were the first to store wine in glass jars with corks.

Many thanks to monks in European monasteries who, after the fall of Rome, kept the art of wine-making alive and well.

Today, wine consumption is still enjoyed by many and brings a strong connection within the realm of socializing. It is continually being improved upon and perfected by wine-makers all over the world. And to this day, as Horace instructed, wine is still to be ‘sipped together with one’s lover.’

"Populi"- for the people
“Populi”- for the people
                             

 

Pizza, Napoli Style

Naples Side Street- Searching for Good Pizza
Pizza and Naples are synonymous! 

We had just spent the day exploring the National Archeological Museum of Naples. A  big task. I loved taking in all the fragments of art and history, from ancient Pompeii to the early Romans. Although it consumed a lot of energy, it left me in a state of bliss.

Afterwards, winding our way down the Via Tribunali, a major byway through Naples, we found ourselves overcome by a colossal hunger for pizza. And of course, we all know that Naples turns out the very best.

Pizzeria-hole in the wall with people waiting...good sign!
Pizzeria hole in the wall with people waiting…good sign!

We passed several before we found this one, L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele. Founded in 1870, this pizzeria has been established here since 1930. There are only two true Neapolitan pizzas~ Marinara and Margherita.

pizza crew
Crew of the L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele, keepers of “the sacred temple of pizza.”

So many can’t be that wrong! However, as I worked my way through the crowd, I found that I needed to take a number and wait. I didn’t hesitate, especially after spying Julia Roberts on a poster from her movie “Eat, Pray, Love” on the front door. Her pizza scene was filmed right here in this tiny little unobtrusive pizzeria. Julia Roberts and this many people certainly can’t be wrong. I took up my posts outside and waited patiently for 30 minutes (yes, I timed it. I was starving!).

Juliea Roberts besst
Julia Roberts inhaling pizza in “Eat, Pray, Love.”
We sat with locals
Lunching with locals is always the best! They know where to find great bargain food.

Inside were six tables built to seat four people each. We enjoyed great conversation with a young couple from Naples next to us. She spoke less english and was a bit quiet, but she had a warm and engaging smile.

Great Smiles!
Love Those Grins!

My husband Carl had a lively conversation with this young man. He is an attorney in Naples, and his English was excellent.

Happy Tummies, Great Company!
Happy Tummies, Great Company!

We did as the locals do and ordered what they did~Margherita with extra cheese. I was not disappointed. It was the best pizza ever. Since then I have been looking for the same pizza, only to come up disillusioned. Well, no better excuse to go back to Naples and gratify my cravings at L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele!

Pizza Michele sign
L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele
Via Cesare Sersale,
Naples, Italy

Classico: Roman Wine

taverna in naples

I found myself relaxing at a quiet taverna in Naples one evening while watching the sun set over the boundless sea. Musing, I noticed that my glass of Verdicchio dei Castelli began to create a sparkling prism effect on the white tablecloth. As the sun continued to set, the golden shafts of angled light became even more magnificent. Mesmerizing. Engaging.

When did wine making begin in Italy? And where?

Well, what I do know is that the Greeks, always admired by the Romans, began cultivating grapes in southern Italy well before the first century. They called Italy “Enotria,” the land of wine. Their wine techniques spread northward to central Italy, which were adopted by the clever Etruscans.

Etruscans
Etruscans

In time, the Romans grew wealthy from conquests throughout the Mediterranean, creating markets to invest in vineyards. As a result, vine-growing became very advanced as the Romans knew which areas produced the best wine.

Wine was exported in exchange for slaves to cultivate the large estate vineyards, which grew even larger. People were forced off their land and emigrated to Rome. By the first century Rome was a metropolis with one million inhabitants!

Hail Caesar

“Imports of wine are absolutely forbidden…it makes men soft and unequal to hard work.”   Caesar

For a time, Caesar prohibited Roman wine to pass the borders into Germany. But, Roman vines did spread along the Rhine and Moselle rivers. Trier, on the slopes above the Moselle, began growing grapes as early as the second century. Today these predominately white grapes are a vast supplier of some of the best white wine from Germany.

Trier
Trier

Pliny, Roman writer and historian, noted that wine-producing had spread like wildfire, covering much of Gaul by 71 AD.

By this time, the Romans had developed over 50 distinct varieties of grapes. The best wines came from Campania, north of Naples on the plain between the sea and the mountains.

Wine was available to all societal levels, like a sacred right. There was, of course, no tea, chocolate or coffee, no soft drinks or spirits. And beer, though it did exist, was considered a barbarians drink. Imagine that!

Greek Symposium
Greek Symposium
Roman Conviviam
Roman Convivian

“Wine can of their wits the wise beguile, make the sage frolic, and the serious smile.”  Homer, Greek poet

As we all know, wine was a huge part of the Roman’s daily life. So, how did they stay sober?

Romans never drank wine ‘neat’, but diluted it with water, usually one part wine and two parts water. They sometimes used seawater or sweetened with honey. The Greeks diluted their wine even more.

The intention was to enjoy the aesthetic pleasure of the wine while at their symposium by becoming intoxicated just enough to enjoy spontaneity and converse freely. The Roman counterpart, called the convivium, was not as tame. In each society it was considered disgraceful to become intoxicated in public and was not the norm.

How did all of this culminate into the wine we drink today, almost 2,000 years later?

In my next post I will share popular wines we drink today that are the very descendent of these Roman vineyards. You won’t want to miss it so…stay tuned!