“Beware the Ides of March”, sayeth Shakespeare’s soothsayer… so, we had our Ides of March tasting a little early, on the 12th! Of course, that famous day is forever tied to the murder of Julius Caesar in 44 BC. Up to that point, the lands amassed into the Roman empire comprised one of the greatest wine-growing regions ever known - with large swaths of Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa. No wonder Bacchus was revered and Bacchanalia thrived.
The Romans, being prolific writers, made sure that we know about their wines and their winemaking; Cato, Varro, Columella, and Pliny the Elder all had treatises on the subject.
Hosted, as always, by Bob Barrett, our wines were quite modern and fresh!
Stobi Zilavka, Macedonia
The winery is located in the town of Stobi, Gradsko. Stobi was the capital of the Kingdom of Paeonia,incorporated into the Roman province “Macedonia” in 146 BC, and later the capital of Macedonia Secunda, ca 400 AD. The winery’s “peacock” dates to a mosaic from that latter time.
The wine is 100% Zilavka, which is indigenous to the region. It has great pear notes with some tart citrus. Light acidity with great minerality makes it easy-drinking and easy to enjoy. Everyone enjoyed this wine, which has similarities to Italian whites - like Greco di Tufo.
Weingut Heinrich Blaufrankisch, Burgenland
Burgenland lies on Austria’s central, eastern border with Hungary. The area, known as Pannonia, was dominated by Celts, spurring alliances with Rome and Caesar, These spawned many Roman military camps, which later became major settlements, such as Vindobona (Vienna), Carnuntum (between Vienna and Bratislava), and Aquincum (Budapest).
This 100% Blaufrankisch has a bold, intense nose of cedar, sandalwood, and evergreen; mouth has some dark cherry or blackberry. It has a medium/light acidity, a bit of herbal freshness, and a superb, silky finish. This was the favorite of taster, Eric.
Mastroberardino Redimore Aglianico, Irpinia DOC
Mastroberardino is located near Avellino, in Irpinia, Campania. Citizens of Irpinia (Latin Hirpina) received Roman citizenship in 87 BC, and it became the imperial colony of Livia in 22 BC. The eruption of nearby Mt Vesuvius in 79 AD helped preserve some ancient aspects of winemaking under the ash. Mastoberardino is involved with the discovery and reintroduction of an ancient grape varietals and ancient production methods. That work led to the Aglianico clone used in this wine. Aglianico might by Italy’s oldest varietal, and is possibly the grape used in the prized Roman wine, Falernum.
This wine has a dark, spicy nose of coffee, vanilla, and leather, with a ton of black pepper in the mouth. Consequently, taster Mike loved the nose and not the mouth! The mouth also has some subtle, dark-red fruits and a nice long finish. This was the favorite of 4 or our tasters, including Bill who always prefers the Italian wine in the group!
Massaya Silver Selection, Bekaa Valley
Massaya is found in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley - a major source of grapes and grains in both Roman and modern times. Wine from this region made its way to major cities at Baghdad and Damascus at least by the 18th century BC. “Syria”, which included the Bekaa, was annexed for Rome by Pompey in 64 BC. Subsequently it became important for the imperial sanctuary with temples to Jupiter and Bacchus.
The “Silver” is a blend of Cinsault, Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Mourvedre. The nose is pure “barnyard”, with mint and cedar notes, and plenty of concentrated deep-red fruits. This wine has the biggest weight with a medium/heavy texture. Six of our tasters preferred this wine - including Milton, who prefers the weightier ones.
Domaine Durban Muscat Beaumes-de-Venise, Pays Vaucluse
This area of Provence was known as Narbonensis when it requested the protection of the Roman army against incursions from Celts and Ligurians. However, they lost their independence in 49BC - the year Caesar crossed the Rubicon - as a result of their misguided support for Pompey. Once conquered, the area became known as Provincia Romana, and Roman building activity began in earnest - creating the now-famous theatre at Orange. The region produced great wines even then; its Muscat was praised by Pliny the Elder.
Wait! Bob brought a dessert wine? Yes, 100% Muscat and we loved it. It definitely has a touch of honeyed sweetness, but it is very well-balanced by high acidity. It has a medium/heavy texture, but still feels fresh. Eric sensed a note of “sherry” in it. While all the tasters in enjoyed it, it was Sarah’s favorite.