Italian archaeologists set to produce ancient Roman wine
Archaeologists in Italy have planted a vineyard near Catania in Sicily with the aim of making wine using techniques from classical Rome described in ancient texts. The team based at the University of Catania expects its first vintage within four years.
The team’s efforts to replicate the wine echo recent attempts to recreate ancient beer.
In order to replicate conditions used in Roman times, modern chemicals will not be used on the crop and the vines will be planted using wooden Roman tools and fastened with canes and broom.
Instead of fermenting in barrels, the wine will be placed in large terracotta pots – traditionally big enough to hold a man – which are buried to the neck in the ground, lined inside with beeswax to make them impermeable and left open during fermentation before being sealed shut with clay or resin.
"We will not use fermenting agents, but rely on the fermentation of the grapes themselves, which will make it as hit and miss as it was then – you can call this experimental archaeology," said researcher Mario Indelicato, who is managing the programme.
The research team are making two types of one – the type once used for the nobles, which was sweetened with honey and water, and the type made for slaves, which was more vinegary.
The team has closely followed points on wine growing set out by Virgil in the Georgics, his poem about agriculture, as well as by Columella, a first century AD grower, whose detailed guide to winemaking was relied on until the 17th century.
The history of wine spans thousands of years and is closely intertwined with the history of agriculture, cuisine, civilization and humanity itself. Archaeological evidence suggests that the earliest known wine production occurred in what is now the country of Georgia around 7000 BCE, with other notable sites in Greater Iran and Greece, dated at 4500 BCE.
Winemaking technology improved considerably during the time of the Roman Empire: many grape varieties and cultivation techniques were known, the design of the wine press advanced, and barrels were developed for storing and shipping wine.
As for what the modern version of ancient wine will taste like… that is yet to be determined!