Roman Wine

In Rome and the surrounding area, wine consumption is held in high regard. It is an ancient pastime which pre-dates the Roman Empire and has since evolved into a culture, an art form, a throwback to past times for some, always a pleasure for all.

The consumption of wine in Rome did not follow the ancient Greek tradition of the symposium (‘drinking together’), nor the form of religious excitement which was said to affect those who became inebriated, thought to be possessed by deities such as Eros, Dionysus or the Muses. In the bars and banquets of ancient Rome, wine was treated as a beverage rather than a ‘drug’, but it was also considered a rarity, even a luxury.

Drinking wine was a privilege reserved for the head of the family and adult males, occasionally bestowed to wives but strictly forbidden to young unmarried women. Wine was a precious commodity and never wasted, therefore ‘watering’ was common (hot water added to wine) prior to serving in oversized cups. ‘Pure’ wine was only consumed during votive libations or for medicinal purposes.

Victorious military campaigns and the consequent presentation of the spoils of war to the people of Rome gave rise to a dramatic increase in wine consumption. Newly opened taverns in the city encouraged the drinking of wine for fun, and it soon became commonplace for wine to be served warm with food. To show off their wealth, some drank wine filtered through snow for some kind of early prototype refreshment. The appreciation of vintage wine has changed little. A vintage was essential for important gatherings, and Petronius describes a 100 year old bottle of ‘Falerno’ served at the sumptuous table of Trimalchio. Pliny catalogued Italian and foreign wines, the proverb ‘In vino veritas’ (in wine, the truth) has been ascribed to him. Let it be known that his words referred not only to the fact that wine helps the best of us speak the absolute truth, but also the power it grants to those who indulge, establishing a connection with the gods.

One can only imagine how wine tasted in antiquity. Latin texts indicate that a ‘Magister bibendi’ (master of drinking) was selected by the roll of dice. Ironically, he had to refrain from drinking and ascertain how many parts of water should be mixed with the wine. Nobility loved to dilute wine with all sorts of ingredients, and the most common mixture was ‘Vinum mulsum’ (wine with honey). Romans drank to the health of their friends, lovers, and important people in society, as we do today. When men drank to the good health of a woman, they imbibed from as many cups as the letters in her name.

The best known Roman wines are those produced in hills due south of the city in the Castelli Romani region. A green and fertile volcanic basin boasting two crater lakes and 16 picturesque towns. Wine making in the Castelli is ubiquitous. Many white wines, particularly from Marino and Frascati, are of a very high standard, and have been awarded the prestigious DOC certification of quality. While red wines from the region are not as well known, they are no less appreciated by today’s Romans who run to the hills for wine, pork, cheese and bread when their city roasts in July and August.

Our Wine Tours Rome visit Marino, Frascati and other small towns in the Castelli Romani renowned for producing high quality white wines. Wine tasting in Rome is another option for visitors who prefer to remain in the ancient city centre.