The next group to start developing winemaking and the actual growth of the vine in roughly 1000BC were, in fact, a Greek colony that had grown so strong they had become independent of the Greeks.
If you haven’t guessed it yet, I am of course referring to the Romans. The Romans made major contributions to the science of winemaking. They took huge steps to the classification of many varieties of grapes. They also invented the wooden wine barrel. This was a huge development considering the kind of wood used to make the barrel imparts its own distinct flavours to the wine. Also, the barrels allow for the wine to evaporate a little bit during the aging process.
I’ll come back to the process of aging in caskets when we cover the French, as they have perfected the technique. It is important to remember the Romans laid down the foundations. The Romans are also thought to be the first to use glass bottles for wine. The oldest bottle of wine to be found has been dated to 325 AD. Corking had been invented at that time, but the Romans preferred to preserve their wine by floating a layer of olive oil on it. They classified many diseases that afflict grapes.
At first the Romans didn’t take to wine and sent any that was produced over the Alps to the barbarian Gauls, who were so fond of the drink. The Romans preferred drink was beer and mead, because of their warrior past. Wine didn’t really take off until the sacking of Carthage in 146BC, because with the sacking they also acquired the first ever book about wine making.
Then Cato, (who suspiciously had pushed for the attack on Carthage) wrote a book on winemaking (which made him a fortune), called ‘De Agi Cultura’. Thanks to this book, beer and mead were a thing of the past and wine was the drink of the future.
After another hundred years there would be defined regions for winemaking. Apparently, the most desired regions were Falernian and Caecuban, but they disappeared after just 50 years due to Neronian public works. If the wine was as fine as it is claimed, then this conclusively proves the mental condition of Emperor Nero was very poor indeed.
The Romans, much like the Greeks, enjoyed drinking parties where philosophical debates and poetry readings took place. The difference in these parties was that the Romans tended to get very drunk and dancing girls and orgies were also a standard part of the night.
The master of ceremonies would choose the type or blend of wine, how much water should be mixed with the wine and call out the toasts. In short, he had the best job going at the party. The people who attended these parties were rich, but the poor got there fair share of wine also. At the theatre and at the games, there was a drink called muslum, which consisted of cheap wine mixed with honey. This was provided by politicians that needed support for the next election. If only our MP did the same!
Wine wasn’t just for merriment and it also had an important role in religion. It was also consumed a lot at the graveside funeral feasts. Wine was poured down specially designed orifices in the tombs, so that the dead could share wine with the living. Wine continued to play a significant role in the Catholic religion.
No one can actually say what the Roman wine tasted like, but as with the Greeks, we can get a pretty good idea by the taste of wine made from the surviving varieties of grapes.
Personally, I'd rather leave the mystery of the flavour of Roman wine as just that; a mystery. The other great contribution that Romans gave to winemaking was that every province they conquered, so most of Western Europe, they established a wine industry. As the empire grew the wine in their province started to rival the wines being made in Rome, especially Portugal which became famous for its wine.
The Romans therefore gave it the honour of naming it Lusitania, after their God of wine Lyssa (Bacchus). The amount of wine being produced was so great that in 92 AD Emperor Domitian decreed that half of the grape vines outside of Rome were to be uprooted.
Wine is still an important part of Italian culture and is taken very seriously, which this Italian proverb shows quite nicely: “One barrel of wine can work more miracles than a church full of saints.” When the Roman Empire fell in 476 AD, Western Europe was plunged into the Dark Ages and winemaking was only kept alive by the Roman Catholic Church.