Uncorking the Secrets of Ancient Winemaking in Ancient Rome
The crafting of wine dates back thousands of years. So far that even the Romans were at it. Here’s how they influence today’s wine culture.
Wine has been produced for millennia, and the methods used in ancient times still greatly influence the modern winemaking processes of today.
It’s hard to believe, but it’s true. Despite all our technology, evolved taste, and access to ingredients and flavors from all over the world, the knowledge of our very ancestors is still with us to this day.
Back in July 2022, a new study was published in PLOS One, a peer-reviewed open-access scientific journal, that highlighted some of the newly discovered ways Ancient Romans used to make and keep their wine.
Ancient Rome was one of the first major producers of wine, and their techniques were essential to developing this critical industry. Join us as we explore the secrets of ancient Roman winemaking and how they continue to influence wines today!
What are the origins of winemaking in Ancient Rome?
The roots of winemaking in Ancient Rome date back several thousands of years, and it has been said that the Romans were among some of the first people to produce wine on a large scale.
In fact, the region’s winemaking has significantly impacted modern-day winemaking techniques and grape varieties used for viniculture. The Romans widely used the process of blending different types of grape varieties to create unique flavors and characteristics in their wines, which is still practiced today. Furthermore, they developed efficient ways to cultivate their land with irrigation canals or possibly even utilize volcanic soil to help with the growth process.
As you can see, a mixture of knowledge, talent, and natural harmony allowed the Romans to excel in their winemaking ventures, thus advancing the art for many centuries to come. From these beginnings stemmed a long-standing tradition that has carried through time, making Ancient Rome an important part of not just its own culture’s history but also that of winemaking worldwide.
What were the different grapes used in Roman wines?
The wines produced in Roman wineries were unique to the area due to the range of grapes that were used.
From the sweet, honey-like Muscat grape to the sharp and acidic Trebbiano, Romans could create a variety of flavors by mixing different grapes together.
For the longest time, it was unclear which other types of grapes were commonly used in Roman winemaking. However, new research dived into this, researching 28 grape seeds found across nine archaeological sites throughout France, dating back over 2,500 years.
As it turns out, these seeds are genetically very similar to the grapes we drink in our wines today, especially when it comes to pinot noir and syrah grapes. Therefore, it’s scientifically accurate to say that when you pick up one of your favorite bottles of those varieties, you’re drinking the same tasting wine as the emperors of Ancient Rome did!
How was wine made in Ancient Rome?
Ancient Romans took the art of winemaking seriously and strove to make a quality product. At its core, the process for producing wine was reasonably straightforward, beginning with pressing grapes until all their juice was extracted, then leaving it to ferment in large jars made from terracotta or marble.
These pots were lined with beeswax and then buried into the ground all the way up to the neck of the jar. This would prevent the wine from soaking away, becoming contaminated, and staying cool in the hot Roman summers.
The pots were then left open during the fermentation process, then sealed with clay or resin for storage. You can already see the precise Roman winemaking process and how advanced it was at the time. Great care was clearly taken during every step of the process to ensure the wine produced was of the highest quality, especially when it was heading in the direction of wealthy civilians and the higher-ups of society, those who had high expectations when it came to food and drink.
The resulting wine in the terracotta pots was often mixed with small amounts of herbs, honey, salt water, or resins to give it additional flavorings.
Red wine was the most popular among Roman noblemen and for ritualistic purposes such as offering it as a libation to various Roman gods, but white wines were also drunk frequently, and even sometimes lightly-sparkling wines were produced that featured notes of wild fruits like sloes or elderberries. Ancient Romans understood the importance of caring for the vineyards, ensuring their vines would have perfect conditions and ample sunshine – knowledge that has certainly not been forgotten today.
What types of wine were produced in Ancient Rome?
Ancient Roman wine was incredibly diverse and plentiful in its early history stages. Varietals included both red and white grapes, with Falernian, Caecuban, Albane, and Mamertine generally considered to be among the most popular.
While these varieties were commonly produced in limited quantities, they were noted for their quality and flavor. Roman tables usually offered wines to guests, often diluted with water or herbs to decrease their potency. However, Posca and Lora are reputed to be the most popular and most commonly available varieties of wine across the Roman populations at the time. These are red wines since white wine grapes were reserved for the upper classes of society.
Typically, posca would have been made using wine vinegar and water and would have been most common among the lowest classes, including soldiers and slaves. As you can imagine, it also would have tasted very similar to vinegar.
Lora was an actual wine, generally made from grapes that had already been pressed and would have probably contained the skins, stalks, and seeds from the grapes themselves. It’s the same kind of stuff that ‘grappa‘ is made of today. It was popular because it was cheap and easy to make.
Then, on the upper ends of society, you had actual wine. The original juices from freshly-pressed grapes were stored in the terracotta pots and mixed with flavors, typically diluted with water to ensure they were palatable.
Ancient Rome embodied a culture that highly valued the art of winemaking, and fine Roman wines were honored as symbols of health, feasts, and ceremonies — sometimes even being used as currency for trading goods. In short, Ancient Roman winemaking was a craft revered for its quality beverage production, exclusive of our modern varieties.
How was wine consumed in Ancient Rome?
Ancient Rome was passionate about wine, consuming it in large amounts daily. In fact, it was considered democratic and necessary to do so, which is why it was also made available to slaves and the lower classes of the population. It was something you just had to do. People drank wine as part of their meals and as a beverage during social functions and festivals. The wine-drinking culture was so accepted that all classes of people, including slaves and children, were known to partake, though it should be noted that the strength and content of the wine varied greatly between class levels.
What was the impact of Roman winemaking on the modern world?
So, how did these humble origins and such an essential societal practice affect the wine cultures of today? Quite simply, Roman wine-making began in the 5th century BC and made a lasting impression on the world. Even today, we see their influence in modern-day wineries and vineyards around the globe.
The Romans had vast expertise and knowledge when it came to making wine. Thanks to their legacy, many of the techniques and processes, such as aging, press types, harvesting colors, and different additives are still used today. Due to the importance of wine in Roman culture, the art of maintaining vineyards, storing and flavoring wine, and perfecting this process at all stages all grew exponentially. This level of care and appreciation for wine developed such a high-quality product, allowing it to progress as far as it is today.
Our appreciation for carefully crafted, unaltered wines can be attributed to the Romans for laying down these standards through their methods almost 3000 years ago. This has helped preserve centuries of expertise and understanding of how to make quality wines that delight our senses with every sip.
Ancient Rome’s impact on winemaking is evident in many ways. So, the next time you sit down to enjoy a glass of wine, take a moment to think about the long history that has led to its production.
From the ancient Romans to the modern-day winemakers, each generation has added its special touch to this timeless beverage, allowing us to truly enjoy everything wine has to offer.
Also read: Wine Production History and Rome