While winemaking did not originate in Rome, without a doubt, the Roman Empire was responsible for advancing the viticulture practices and expanding the enjoyment of wine to across Europe and beyond. The effects of the role played by Ancient Rome can still be seen in winemaking today, as many of the techniques and ideas used then continue to be undertaken now when producing wine.
With grape vines naturally growing in Italy for centuries, it is hard to pinpoint when wine started being made; however, the influence of the Ancient Greeks and their winemaking practices can be seen around the year 800 BC, especially in Tuscany. By the 2nd Century BC, however, winemaking in Rome was at its peak, and there were even established grand cru vineyards. During this time, many first-growth vineyards were being developed and were extending into other areas, such as Sicily, Venice and Naples. It is estimated that by this point, people in Rome were drinking around 180 million litres of wine each year, which equates to a bottle of wine per citizen, per day!
Roman Winemaking Techniques
While other ancient wines were less than desirable, the Romans got it right by developing a number of techniques to improve their winemaking and by considering a variety of factors. Many of these practices are still utilised to this day, for example, taking the landscape and climate of each region into account and using this information to select the ideal grape varietal to thrive in those conditions. Ancient Roman viticulture also saw the development of vine-training and the use of trellises to promote better growth and to support the vines. They also understood the importance of crop yields and effective vine pruning to create a greater quality of wine.
When it came to actually making the wine, the grapes would first be crushed, typically by foot, to create grape juice. In larger vineyards and estates, following this, the grapes would be pressed to ensure that all juice had been extracted. The grape juice and skins (known together as ‘must’) were then left to ferment for between two to four weeks. Romans developed the ‘sur lie’ ageing technique, which sees the leftover yeast particles left in the wine during the ageing stage for added texture – a practice that is still used today. Romans also helped to introduce cleaner working methods that helped to reduce the spoilage of wine, as well as to avoid any impurities or contamination. Following the fermentation and initial ageing stage, the wine was transferred to amphoras. In these containers, wine was stored ready to be served or left for additional ageing.
To adjust the flavours of a wine, chalk dust was sometimes mixed in to lessen overly acidic notes. Alternatively, part of the wine must was cooked to enhance the sugars present, adding a sweeter taste to the wine. Other ways of adding a hint of sweetness were to mix in honey or lead.
Ancient Roman Wine Types
Typically, wines produced in ancient Rome would have been very alcoholic white wines that were sweetened. Some wines would be given extra flavour by adding spices and herbs. In search of ways to improve the taste and aroma, plants such as lavender were planted next to vineyards, with the belief that they would permeate and flavour the grapes.
Ancient Romans saw the value in letting a wine age, with matured vintages often gaining higher price tags than newly produced wines, regardless of the taste. Some wines were left for around 20 years to reach their ‘best’!
One major difference in the wine of Ancient Rome, compared with that which we drink today, is the inclusion of water. It was uncommon to drink wine pure in Ancient Rome, as water was almost always added. Typically, the mixture would be around three parts water to one part wine. There were a few reasons for this. Firstly, the wine made at this time was highly alcoholic, so water was often needed to reduce the potency. Another reason is that water quality was poor in some areas, so wine was mixed in to help purify the water and improve its taste.
Impact of the Romans on Wine
It is undeniable that Ancient Rome changed the wine world drastically, introducing the drink, and the practices of producing it, to several areas throughout Europe. While wine was used for trade, Roman winemaking was also introduced to other countries when vineyards were set up throughout the growing Roman Empire to keep a steady supply of wine for the soldiers and colonists who were living there. This caused wine to be produced in countries such as France, Italy, Portugal, Spain and Germany, which remain some of the most dominant wine producing regions in the world.
Wine production has, of course, moved on in leaps and bounds from the early days of Ancient Rome, but their influence certainly lives on. Thankfully, though, we are now able to store wine in a much better way, allowing us to age and collect bottles in their ideal conditions. Whether you opt for a wine rack or Climadiff wine cabinet, there are plenty of wine storage solutions for you to choose from Tanglewood Wines!