Unique Pompeii wine a taste of ancient times

By Estelle Shirbon

Italy - Almost 2 000 years after Mount Vesuvius buried it in ash, the ancient city of Pompeii has renewed a long-lost wine-making tradition.

Wine-makers on Wednesday presented a red tipple produced from native grape varieties, cultivated using ancient techniques in plots where vineyards thrived until the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD ended life in the city.

"The ancient world was not made up only of statues and objects we see in museums. It was made up of all the facets of daily life - and wine was an important one," said Pietro Giovanni Guzzo, archaeological director of Pompeii.

"This wine recreates one small part of what life was like in Pompeii before the eruption," he told a news conference in the heart of the ancient city, now thronged by thousands of tourists every day.

The ancient Pompeiians cultivated vineyards in the surrounding countryside as well as inside the city walls, in their gardens and courtyards, and their wines were traded far and wide. Amphoras bearing the insignia of Pompeii-based wine-makers have been found as far as France.

Archaeological and botanical studies, including the moulding of imprints left in the soil by vine roots, allowed modern wine-makers to identify where vineyards were located and what kinds of grapes were grown.

The frescoes and mosaics that adorn many of the houses of Pompeii also provided precious information about the ancient vineyards, with numerous images of vines and bunches of grapes helping archaeologists identify varieties.

Based on those findings, an experimental plot of 200 square metres inside the archaeological site was planted in 1996 with eight different types of native vines that were well-known to the ancient Pompeiians.

The modern wine-makers followed ancient techniques, with close rows of vines supported by stakes made of chestnut wood, planted in exactly the spots where they stood 2 000 years ago.

They eventually selected two varieties of grapes, the Columbina Purpurea and Vitis Oleagina.

In 2001, the first substantial harvest provided wine-makers with enough grapes to produce 1 721 bottles of a wine that was named Villa dei Misteri, after the Villa of Mysteries, one of Pompeii's famous frescoed houses.

The wine will be sold at auction in Rome later this month, with all proceeds going to fund the restoration of an ancient wine cellar at one of the recreated vineyards.

As for the taste - "Well, it's a newborn wine, it needs rounding-off," said Carla Capalbo, of the monthly wine magazine Decanter.

"But it definitely has a character. You can taste the elements of the territory and the unusual grape varieties. They have found a balance between antique and modern."

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