The first known mention of the name “Prosecco” is attributed to the Englishman Fynes Moryson. He placed Prosecco among the famous wines of north Italy in 1593, noting:
“Histria is devided into Forum Julii, and Histria properly so called… Here growes the wine Pucinum, now called Prosecho, much celebrated by Pliny” (80). “These are the most famous Wines of Italy. La lagrima di Christo and like wines neere Cinqueterre in Liguria: La vernazza, and the white Muskadine, especially that of Montefiaschoni in Tuscany: Cecubum and Falernum in the Kingdom of Naples, and Prosecho in Histria” (103).
Reading this memoir on archive.org I noticed the names of the wines; La lagrima di Christo, La vernazza, Montefiaschoni, Cecubum, Falernum, and Prosecho. I wondered how they tasted and how I could go about finding a modern version of these that would let me get to know them as my historical counterparts did. In this post I list a number of grapes and wines that are from the pre- 17th-century Italian peninsula. These are ones you can search for to buy wine for your persona 🙂
Digging a little more, I found that Glera, grown in ancient Rome, is the principal grape of modern Prosecco sparkling wine. In the past the grape has been known as Prosecco /Prosecho (more precisely Prosecco Tondo). The name “prosecco” is actually Slovenian, from prozek, or “path through the woods.”
In his Natural History, Pliny the Elder—who died in 79 AD—talks of Julia Augusta, “who gave the credit for her eighty-six years of life to the wine of Pizzino.” (In the Latin, on the opposite side, it actually says “Pucino vino,” as in Puccino, as in Prosecco.)
The Romans may have loved it, and Italians continued to love it, but it wasn’t until Antonio Carpenè first subjected the still white wine to a second fermentation that Prosecco acquired it’s now lasting association with bubbles. How else have the ancient grapes that produced Renaissance wines been changed for our modern palates?
Italy claims well over a thousand varieties of grapes, of which some 400 are in regular use. Many of these trace their roots, literally and figuratively, to ancient times. The greco vines, which today produce Greco del Tufo, one of southern Italy’s most famous wines, obviously came from Greece. The precursors of sangiovese, the principal grape of Chianti, appear to have been cultivated in Tuscany by the Etruscans. Modern winemakers are turning to ancient grapes once again. At San Felice, a large wine estate and research center near Siena in the Chianti region, some 300 long-forgotten grape varieties, many of them ancestors of sangiovese, are being nurtured in a special vineyard.
There is cannonau, for example, Sardinia’s version of Spain’s garnacha; the nero d’Avola from Sicily, and the negroamaro, another grape from Apulia, the heel of the Italian boot, whose history stretches back to the Greeks and Phoenicians.
Apulia, or Puglia, is also home to the primitivo, an ancient relative, it is thought, of California’s zinfandel. Some wine historians believe the primitivo came across the Adriatic from Croatia as early as the 15th century and may actually have originated elsewhere in the Ottoman Empire.
Fiano, another old Italian variety, is thought by some experts to be a descendant of the grapes that made Apianum, a wine popular in ancient Rome. Mastroberardino, one of southern Italy’s best-known wine producers, makes fiano from grapes grown on hazelnut plantations near Avellino. Falaghina, another ancient variety, is the grape used to make a modern version of Falernum, probably the best known of all the Roman wines.
Determining what type of wine to drink in the past seems to have been a very complex decision, according to Allen Grieco in his article ‘Medieval and Renaissance Wines: Taste, Dietary Theory, and How the Choose the “Right” Wine (14th-16th Centuries)’ Greico, an expert in food history from Harvard University, focuses on sources from Italy and notes that while the modern wine drinker will place a great deal of importance on where a wine was produced, this did not matter very much for his medieval counterpart.
Instead, some of the ideas behind medieval scientific thought and personal health were considered to be very important in determining what type of wine to drink. It was believed that all things were made up of four qualities – hot, cold, dry and wet – and to maintain good health your meals and drinks had to balance those levels in your body.
The article ‘Medieval and Renaissance Wines: Taste, Dietary Theory, and How the Choose the “Right” Wine (14th-16th Centuries)’ appeared in the journal Mediaevalia, Volume 30 in 2009. This issue was devoted to wine in the Middle Ages and Renaissance – click here to see its table of contents.
Wine was also used as a base for coridals. read more on that here.
What wines would your persona have imbibed?
Early Coridal Recipes http://www.dragonbear.com/cordrec1.html
F. MORYSON, An Itinerary. Containing His Ten Yeeres Travell through the Twelve Dominions of Germany, Bohmerland, Sweitzerland, Netherland, Denmarke, Poland, Italy, Turky, France, England, Scotland & Ireland, Vol IV, pp. 80, 103, Glasgow 1908.
Medievalists.net Article “What was the best wine in the Middle Ages?”
NY Times Article “A Renaissance for Ancient Grapes”
For info on Spanish or Portuguese wines: http://www.vinetowinecircle.com/en/history/the-late-middle-ages-and-the-renaissance/