The Wine of Ancient Rome

2,700 years ago, on the slopes of Mount Falerna near Campania and Latuim in Southern Italy, Aglianico grapes basked in the sun in three very special vineyards. The first vineyard was known as the Caucinian Falernian and was located on the highest slopes, the second vineyard was the Falerian found on the lowest slopes; and between the two vineyards rested the third the prized Faustian Falerian vineyard. These precious vineyards were owned by Roman aristocracy for millennia and are still under vine today. The Phoenecians cultivated the grape in Greece. During the 7th or 8th BCE the Greeks brought the grapes to Italy.

Falerian wine made from these ancient Aglianico grapes, from the Faustus vineyard were the world’s first Premier Cru, and were reserved for the extremely wealthy and important members of Roman society. It was a wine of legend and heritage, written about by famous poets, philosophers, scholars, and historians. The grapes were harvested late in the season and had tremendous levels of sugar resulting in a sweet wine with very high alcohol content. The wine was left to oxidize for up to twenty years in clay amphorae vessels. The potent sugar and alcohol content of the wine made it age worthy and suitable for travel. The Roman legions carried Falerian throughout Europe and as far north as Britian. Pliny the Elder commented, “It is the only wine that takes light when a flame is applied to it.” He also described a particular banquet honoring Julius Caesar in 60 BCE where the famed “Opimian vintage of 121 BCE” was served. That vintage was an exclusive Falerian and was one of the finest wines ever created.

Aglianico grapes are deep purple, hearty, and full of potent flavors. In Basilicata, they thrive in the volcanic soils of the extinct volcano, Mount Vulture, and on the hills near Taurasi in Campania. The commoners of Rome drank a crude red wine pressed from these grapes. The rustic, inky black wine was superior in tannins and in acidity. It had flavors of smoky ash from the volcanic soils and bright red fruit from the abundant sunshine. Legend claims this is the wine offered to Jesus before his crucifixion and the same wine that Mary Magdalene dabbed to his lips as he was dying. We will never know.

What we do know is that this lovely little grape is still growing in these same vineyards in the southern most regions of Italy. Eighty years ago two winemaking families began to produce modern wines from Aglianico grapes grown on Mount Vulture vineyards. The two most prominent regions for Aglianico in Italy are in Campania, where it is known as Taurasi DOCG, and Basilicata, where it is known as Aglianico del Vulture DOC. Until very recently, Donato D’Angelo and Paternoster were the only two producers of Aglianico del Vultures available in the U.S. Feudi is a new leader in the Aglianico game. Now, Aglianico is springing up on wine lists and in wine boutiques across Denver.

D’Angelo Aglianico del Vulture $35
D’Angelo Scaravite $16
Pasternoster Aglianico del Vulture Don Anselmo $41
Rubrato Aglianico dei Feudi di San Gregorio $22
Taurasi dei Feudi di San Gregorio $40
Feudi di San Gregorio Ros’Aura $15

Full body, tannic, acidic
Smoky, black plums, black cherries, dried cocoa, violets, and rose petals
Fantastic with rustic, wood fired pizza, or lean grilled meats

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