Wine has been present in every civilisation, in all banquets, in all ages. Its use is testified to by the pages in the most ancient literature, in particular the literature which regards the much quoted Italian wines, which have always been famous; it is enough to think that ancient Italy was called “Enotria”, that is “homeland of wine”, even if the ancient cradle of vitis vinifera was Armenia and Mesopotamia.
A LITTLE HISTORY
The first historical occurrence of drunkenness is recorded in the Old Testament, with a reference to Noah: «......Noah, a man of the soil, proceeded to plant a vineyard. Then, when he drank some of its wine, he became drunk....» (Genesis 9, 20-21). The testimonies to the use of wine in the whole of the Middle East dates back to 2000 B.C.
As far as Italy is concerned, the cultivation of vines, starting in Sicily and Calabria, spread to more or less everywhere. This was so much so, that in the year 90 A.D. there was an over-production of wine which provoked a crisis compelling the Emperor Domitian to issue a drastic edict with which he imposed on the wine cultivators the uprooting of half of their vines and forbade the setting up of any new establishments.
The first Roman wines were rather coarse and crudely made; more noble ones were imported from Greece, red wine and sweet wine referred to by Homer in The Odyssey; the wine of Chios, Naxos, Tosos, Lesbos, Rhodes and Cyprus was very famous. Then, with the passage of time, even the Romans learnt how to better cultivate the vines and to make wine with more care. The great writers wrote about wine, such as Cato, Terence Varro, Virgil and, above all, Columella (1st century A.D.) who with the “De re rustica” marked in particular the height of the agricultural techniques and of wine-growing and production.
Wine tasting also reached a very refined technique. The sommeliers of the time who were known as “haustores” adhered to well established standards: before the tasting, did not eat heavily-spiced food or food of a very strong taste and never swallowed the wine to be examined. The wines were separated according to their taste, and, that is: vinum dulce (sweet); vinum soave, nobile, pretiosum (mellow); vinum molle, lene (soft), vinum imbecille, fugiens, humecti saporis (weak and insipid); vinum forte, solidum, consistens (potent, full); vinum firmum, validum (compact, substantial); vinum austerum, durum (that did not admit to being too confident); vinum asperum, acre, acutum (sour, or immature grapes); vinum ardens, indomitum, generosum (hot, alcoholic); vinum pingue, crasso (heavy, dense); vinum sordidum, vile (vulgar wine). According to its colour the wine could be: vinum album (white); vinum fulvum, croceo colore (yellow); vinum sanguineum (blood-red); vinum purpureum (crimson); vinum niger, ater (black); vinum medium, helveolum (grey or rosè). The vinum austerum, or siccum, that would perhaps today be indicated as dry wine.
It should, however, be pointed out the Romans certainly drank wine that was completely different to the wines that we have today, honouring our tables. They were very enthusiastic about wines which had been aged for a long time, as were in general in all ancient civilisations. The Falerno wine, for example, was to be left for 10 years before it was drunk, and was excellent even if left for 30 years; the Sorrento wines only reached their best after 25 years. So the practice of ageing was fundamental to Roman wine-growing and producing. While today wine is bottled after a period of ageing in barrels from one to four years (except on very rare occasions), in those days, the young wine was closed straight away in amphorae and the ageing was helped by the action of smoke and of heat, rudimental methods of pasteurisation.
The wines, therefore, drunk by Romans must have been dense, bitter, excessively alcoholic, and nearly always very old. So the addition of water to the wines was a necessary operation (pure wine, the ‘merum’, was reserved for the gods). The blending took place during the meal, in a bowl or in each single cup, an addition being made of hot water or cold, or snow, according to the quality of the wine and according to the proportion that at times touched four parts water to one part wine. The use of mixing water with wine was not only Roman, but was used in all ancient civilisations. The Greek lyricist Xenophon wrote: “No-one should pour in the bowl / just wine but it should be mixed with water / and after he will rejoice.”. And again Anacreon in another delightful fragment: “Come along, bring us, oh young lad, / the bowl so that I can make a toast / and drink all without taking breath / and you pour ten parts / of clear water / and five of wine: I want / to rejoice without harm...”.
Other than the mixing with water, the Romans used many «blends» between wines of different places of origin; for example with the ‘amabile’ (smooth) wine of Chios, , they alleviated the roughness of the robust Falerno wine. But the preferred drink was ‘mulsum’, a mixture of honey and wine that became a special liqueur with which the great patrician families opened their sumptuous banquets, as an aperitif and an accompaniment to the starters.
It should be specified that, while the Greek women had permission to drink a moderate amount of wine, in ancient Rome, for five centuries after its founding, it was forbidden for women even to merely smell the wine. In fact, it is told that the kiss was born in Rome during those centuries of severe abstinence. Indeed, the men of the house were authorised to sniff at the lips of the women to ascertain whether or not they had partaken of wine; a husband could even repudiate his wife if he discovered that she had tasted the joy of Bacchus. Then the severe customs were slackened, and in the Imperial age the women were allowed to drink the vinum passum, which is raisin wine, and was generally sweet. Later on, with the changing of the times and with the increase in corruption, women competed with men to take part in the most unbridled guzzling.
With the fall of the Western Roman Empire, wine cultivation and production also went into decline. By this time, wine was produced in all the Latin countries of the world, especially in the transalpine Gaul, the modern France. Nevertheless the love of the Latin peoples, and their descendants, for the liqueur of Bacchus never diminished, so much so that the Popes excommunicated those ecclesiastics who demonstrated exaggerated veneration for the wine. During the Middle Ages, coinciding with the breaking up of the large landed estates and with the rising up of the small and medium properties, especially surrounding monasteries and convents, wine cultivation and production flourished again, and with it the study of agronomy, amongst which the most highly thought of study is the “Ruralium commodorum libri duodecim” of the great Pier de Crescenzi, born in 1228 in Bologna. The fourth of the twelve books is dedicated to the cultivation of the vines. Amongst the types of white grapes, de Crescenzi mentions la Schiava or Sclava (Brescia and Mantova), the Albana (Forli), the Trebbiano or Tribiana (Marches and Tuscany), the Garganega, the Gragnolata (near Tortona), the Greca and Vernaccia, that produced good wines but in small quantities. Amongst the black and red grapes, the Nubiola (Asti), probably the ancestor of the famous Nebbiolo of Piemonte, the Grilla; the Zisica and the Maiolo, cultivated in Bolognese, the Pignuolo (Milan); of the Tuscan grapes there is the Canaiola that may be the same species of vine as the Canaiolo which is still very common today.
The importance is great, as Garoglio affirms in his ‘World Wine Cultivation and Production Encyclopaedia’(‘Enciclopedia vitivinicola mondiale’), undertaken after 1,000 years of vine cultivation, it is enough to think that vines sprouted right up inside the city, as demonstrated by the “Via della Vigna Nuova” (New Vine Street) and the “Via della Vigna Vecchia” (Old Vine Street) in Florence, and there was hardly a palazzo that did not boast of vineyards within its parks; it is, therefore, natural that this quickly reached the level of perfection wished for by Columella and then overtook it with the help of skilful technicians.
A very useful synthesis of the vast documentation concerning wine, entitled “De naturali vinorum historia”,. is the text by Andrea Bacci, a doctor and naturalist who died in Rome in 1600. This work represents how an era of active and very fertile research in history and in costume as was the second half of the fifteen hundreds can produce material about beverages. This book, in fact, takes account of details taken from literature and from the Latin and Greek treatises as well as oenological experience in relation to the techniques of the transformation of the grapes into wine, the conservation of the wine and their different characters, but also in relation to the habits of ancient times in matters of beverages and the occasion of the banquets, to the wines of the different regions of Italy and those of foreign countries etc., etc.
The fundamental work of Andrea Bacci is indeed exhaustive, and embraces a vast panorama of wine-growing and production. But in the middle of the 1600’s another doctor and naturalist, Francesco Redi of Arezzo (1626-1698) left a work dedicated to the Tuscan wines in his “Ditirambo di Bacco in Toscana” (‘Dithyramb of Bacchus in Tuscany’), a type of catalogue of Tuscan wines with a tirade against tea, coffee, water, cider, ‘cervogia’ (which was the name for beer derived from ancient French) etc. etc.
Redi after criticising various wines produced in other regions of Italy, wrote “Ma frattanto qui sull’Arno / io di Pescia il Buriano, / il Trebbiano, il Colombano / mi tracanno a piena mano: / egli è il vero oro potabile / che mandar suole in esilio / ogni male irrimediabile” (‘But meanwhile here on the Arno / I the Buriano from Pescia /the Trebbiano, the Colombano / gulp down with cupped hands / this is the true drinkable gold / which usually sends to exile / all incurable ills’). He follows this by glorifying Malvasia wine, and also “il Topazio pigiato in Lamporecchio” (“the Topazio vine pressed in Lamporecchio”) and all the wines of the Florentine and Tuscan hills. Singing the praises to the Malvasia of the Medici, he turn refers to the Grand Duke of Tuscany Cosimo III (1642-1723) with these verses: “... La Malvagia ... colmane per me quella gran cappa là... A tue virtudi il Cielo / quaggiù promette eternità di gloria...” (‘The Malvasia … fills for me that great goblet … To your virtues the sky / down here promises the eternity of glory’). And concludes with a hymn to Chianti wine “vin decrepito / maestoso / imperioso” (an aged, stately, imperious wine”) which takes away “ogni affanno e ogni dolore” (“every anxiety and every pain”) like the “...brillante Carmignano” (“…brilliant Carmignano wine”) not to be envied by the ambrose of Jupiter.
TUSCANY AND ITS WINES
Tuscan wines - and we refer to the red wines - have preserved for centuries a place of great importance in the wide panorama of Italian wines because they permit a production of large prominence both from the qualitative and the quantitative point of view.
We list below the most famous authorised wines with the clarification of the principle grapes used and of the foods that they should accompany.
- BRUNELLO DI MONTALCINO: for this wine the grapes of the Sangiovese vines are used; being a vintage wine, it may accompany any highly-valued dish such as thrushes roasted on the spit, roast red meats and game; excellent with mature cheeses. It is a wine that requires ageing (four years and five years for the Riserva).
- CARMIGNANO: this is a wine that is produced from the Florentine hills (Carmignano, Poggio and Caiano) using Sangiovese, Canaiolo, Cabernet and Trebbiano grapes; this wine also accompanies roasts and game but can also be taken with “dry” first course dishes. Ageing time required is two years or three years for the Riserva.
- CHIANTI: is a Tuscan wine “par excellence”, pride of the family of the Baroni Ricasoli, it is produced in the provinces of Arezzo, Florence, Pisa, Pistoia, Siena; and depending on the zone, the following may be indicated on the label: Classico (and the geographical indications), Montalbano, Rufino, Colli Fiorentini (Florentine hills), Colli senesi (hills around Siena), Colli Aretini (Hills around Arezzo), Colli Pisani (Hills around Pisa). The vines which are used for this wine are: Sangiovese, Canaiolo, Trebbiano and it accompanies the most traditional Florentine cooking, from tripe to beefsteak. It is placed on the market with only one year of ageing (three for the Riserva).
- MONTECARLO ROSSO: is produced in the province of Lucca (Montecarlo, Altopascio, Capannori and Porcari) with the grapes of Sangiovese and Canaiolo. It may accompany first courses and roasts of white meat.
- MONTESCUDAIO ROSSO: this is produced in various regions of the province of Pisa with Sangiovese, Malvasia of Chianti and/or Vermentino and is well combined with wild fowl and medium hard cheeses.
- MORELLINO DI SCANSANO: typical to all the provinces of Grosseto, made from the Sangiovese grapes, with an ageing of two years only for the Riserva type; accompanies well grilled meats and mature cheeses.
- PARRINA ROSSO: produced at Orbetello (Grossetto) with Sangiovese, Canaiolo and Montepulciano grapes and accompanies all the dishes of the cuisine of Maremma of which in particular “Acquacotta” (soup of ‘porcini’ mushrooms and tomatoes), ‘pappardelle’ pasta (home-made, a wider type of tagliatelle) with hare, wild boar stew. Ageing – only for the Riserva - three years.
- POMINO ROSSO: is produced in a part of the region of Rufina (Florence) with Sangiovese, Canaiolo, Cabernet, Merlot. For this wine there is an ageing of one year and three for the Riserva. It accompanies well various meat dishes and sliced cold meat.
-ROSSO DI MONTALCINO: is produced in Montalcino (Siena) with the Sangiovese and/or Brunello di Montalcino grapes; needs an ageing of at least one year and accompanies well all strongly flavoured dishes.
- VINO NOBILE DI MONTEPULCIANO: is produced only in Montepulciano with the Sangiovese grapes; for this vintage wine there is an ageing of at least two years, three for the Riserva: goes with all pork and red meats and mature cheeses.
Regarding the white wines - they are decisively less famous and less spread throughout Tuscany - here we list a few:
- BIANCO VERGINE VALDICHIANA: is produced with the Trebbiano and the Malvasia in various regions of the province of Arezzo and Siena and accompanies above all, fish dishes.
- MONTECARLO BIANCO and MONTESCUDAIO BIANCO: for which is used the Trebbiano with some other grapes such as the Sauvignon, the Vermentino, the Pinot; the first is produced in the province of Lucca and accompanies other than fish dishes, some white meat dishes, the second in various regions of Pisa.
- POMINO BIANCO: is produced with Pinot, Chardonnay and Trebbiano grapes in the regions of Rufina (Florence) and is offered with aperitifs and also accompanies fish and cheeses.
- VERNACCIA DI SAN GIMIGNANO: produced with the grapes of the same name in the territory of San Gimignano where it is widely used above all in the summer accompanying fresh cheeses and cold dishes.
The Chianti wine produced in the area between Strada in Chianti and Castellina may boast - with the due controls - of the brand “Gallo nero”. The origin of that name is lost in the mists of time and is entrusted to a very dear legend of the Florentines and refuted by the Sienese.
In the period of the Local Governments (‘comuni’), Florence contested other cities, and above all Siena for its supremacy in Tuscany. To achieve this, so says the legend, it was decided to establish the confines of the territory of the two cities by means of a competition.
At the crow of a cockerel two groups left respectively from Siena and Florence; the place in which they would meet would indicate the confines of the two cities. The Florentines kept their cockerel without food for some days before, and so it crowed before the usual time, and thus the Florentine party was able to depart earlier and cover a longer distance than that of the adversaries; the two groups met at a point very near to the city of Siena; and Florence became the owner of a large part of Chianti and decided to embellish the wine produced in that territory - taken away from its rival - by using the mark of the cockerel, in memory and in honour, of that cockerel that asked for food before the usual hour and so permitting Florence to acquire a strip of very precious land.
Italy may boast historically of the most ancient «disciplinari» (regulations) regarding the production and commercialisation of wines (the Chianti, for example, as a region and as a wine appears in the Statuti Fiorentini of 1415; and in 1716, in the last years of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany, the Medici fixed the limits of the territory for production and established the rules for the wine-making of Chianti).
The current Italian laws on wines, known as «930», are from the 12th July 1963. It is with these laws that production is controlled through three different names of origin: a) denomination of origin «simple» (DOS); b) denomination of origin «controlled» (DOC); c) denomination of origin «controlled and guaranteed» (DOCG).
The production of wine in Tuscany is given a large amount of attention with the intent of maintaining the level that its acquired fame demands and to permit the purchaser to be “guided” right from the writing on the label; this a just commitment made to guard the good name, above all of Chianti, which throughout the ages has earned a notoriety that resounds throughout the world.