121. BC Time Flows

Distillation was unknown in the ancient world (and would not be discovered until the early middle ages); wine, therefore, was the strongest drink of the Romans. Falernian was full-bodied (firmissima), with an alcohol content as much as fifteen or sixteen percent at which point the yeast is killed by the alcohol it produces. A white wine, it was aged for ten to twenty years, until it was the color of amber (Pliny, XXXVII.12).

The fabled vintage of 121 BC was a Falernian, the same year that Opimius was consul and had rebuilt the Temple of Concord. This is the wine that Petronius, in the Satyricon, has Trimalchio serve at his dinner banquet, and it is this wine that Pliny says still survived, although so concentrated as to be barely drinkable, to his own time 200 years later. He also speaks of Opimian Falernian being offered to Caligula that was 160 years old.

Vintage wines could be kept for such lengths of time because they were stored in amphorae. These were large tapering two-handled clay jars, with a narrow neck that was sealed with cork plastered over with cement, and held approximately 26 liters or almost 7 gallons. Vines were pruned and tended, and the grapes cut and brought in baskets to be trodden or crushed in the wine press, which the Romans had developed and which produced a second, inferior run.

This bottle was a gift, a subtle wine with a light fruit and crisp acidity.


(92 Points)



Categories: Wines