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The Romans Were Avid Wine Drinkers

It is often noted that the Romans were avid wine drinkers, but what kind of wine did they drink?

The Romans did indeed consume a great deal of wine, and placed a great deal of importance on wine as a beverage. This was partly borne out of necessity, since water was often unsafe to drink for many Romans. Because wine varieties have been extensively crossed and bred over the years, no one knows for certain what modern wines are similar to those consumed by the Romans. However, we do know that the Romans planted wine grapes extensively throughout Europe, and the names of some of the premier varieties — Caecuban, Falernian — which were trained up trees. These wines were considered to be best when aged, usually above hearths so they were exposed to heat, a process that may be comparable to that used to create modern Madeira wines, which darkens the wine and creates a distinctly “cooked” flavor. Thus, Madeira may most closely resemble the flavor of wine enjoyed by the Romans.

One additional aspect of Roman wine consumption was the prevalence of additives which they would often put in wine. These included must, chalk, herbs, and even seawater! These additives were thought to enhance flavor, preserve the wine, or both.

Phylloxera outbreaks are often referred to as major disasters in grape growing. What is Phylloxera?

Phylloxera is a small yellow aphid native to the east coast of the United States, which feeds on, and can easily destroy, the roots of grapevines. In the 1860s, phylloxera devastated French vineyards, and threatened destruction of the French wine industry. A solution was found, two decades later, when it became clear that vines could become resistant by being grafted to the roots of native American grapes, which had long coexisted with phylloxera and developed a resistance. All was thought to be well until the late 1980s and early 1990s, when phylloxera killed off a large number of Napa and Sonoma vines. The vines had been grafted onto insufficiently resistant rootstock, and many vineyards had to be replanted.

How many wineries are there in California (in 2005)? How many of these are in Napa and Sonoma counties?

According to the Wine Institute, there are 1,294 commercial wineries in the state of California. 373 of them are in Napa, and 260 of them are in Sonoma. That means that almost half of the wineries in the state are in these two counties!

Originally published in the Wine Wizard section of our monthly newsletter, The Wine Press, featuring wines from the Van Ruiten Family Winery in 2005!