26 settembre 2023

One cup for thirst, two for merriment, three for sensuality and four for madness


The ancient Romans knew what they were talking about. Their wine was very far from what we are used to, but the philosophy is the same: food, pleasure, sophistication, enjoyment of body and spirit. They knew its merits and flaws, one of which was such that it called into question the very essence of the Roman spirit when it came to women. And so, in order to avoid temptations to adulterate the family sphere with infidelity, they struck with sweetest form and bitterest substance the fair sex who approached the nectar of Bacchus to prevent any frivolity and casualness under the guise of inebriation. And they invented the ius osculi: the husband's right to kiss his wife, but to check whether she had been secretly drinking wine.

The ancient Romans invented the ius osculi: the husband's right to kiss his wife, but to check whether she had been secretly drinking wine.

This manly pucker was the seal not of passion but a sensory test approved by law: an ante litteram alcohol test that did not mean the loss of your license to drive the chariot, but a harsh punishment that could go as far as putting to death she who indulged in the pleasure of wine. The risk, for the Romans, was that this could be the excuse for the pleasure of gluttony leading to other more bodily pleasures due to women’s perceived physical and moral inferiority (infirmitas sexus), incapable of controlling their feelings, and therefore capable of polluting the bloodline with her levitas animi, as Gaius called it. This was one of the social foundations of a civilization that harked back to principles already held by the Greeks. Who, as it happens, were the teachers of the Romans in so many things, including the art of caring for the vine and making wine from its fruit, and propagators of the worship of Dionysus and thus of Bacchus. This formed the divide with the world of the barbarians, and thus of the civilization of the vine and olive tree that became culture and today a lifestyle.

Thus the nectar of Bacchus was exclusive to men—there was no tobacco because America was not even dreamed of—and of Venus and her temptations there was no doubt. The right to kiss—and all that went with it—was believed to have been introduced as early as Romulus, thus with the founding of Rome itself. Homer had already spoken of the dangers of wine in the Odyssey, albeit in an epic-heroic vein: Odysseus hands a mug of black wine to Polyphemus, who is delighted with it, asks for more, then asks its name and hears himself answer Nobody, then hears nothing more, intoxicated by the effects of the drink.

Neither Greeks nor Romans, however, drank pure wine, which was impractical for the times and techniques. The alcohol content was high (20%-25%), but storage was difficult despite the fact that fermentation was stopped by putting the must in amphorae. That thick, pasty liquid susceptible to souring was diluted with water and laced with honey or fruit—the sugars reactivated fermentation—and other spices. But there were those who strongly disagreed. The poet Catullus urged water to go where it pleased but not to spoil pure wine: for him, water was for teetotalers.

I primi Baccanali in onore del dio erano festività aperte alle sole donne, dove licenze e licenziosità non mancavano, considerato anche che Liber Pater era tanto il nume del vino quanto della fertilità con tutto quanto questo comportava

Given the ban on women drinking wine, they had to make do with dulcia (a kind of non-alcoholic drink) and murrina, light fermented drink with added myrrh. Yet the earliest Bacchanalia in honor of the god were festivities open to women only, where there was no lack of license and licentiousness, considering also that Liber Pater was as much the deity of wine as of fertility, with all that this entailed. Sophocles had for centuries elected Italy as Bacchus' favorite land both because of the wild-growing vines and because cultivation was widespread and highly-valued. Falerno, which had to enjoy at least ten years of aging, is still today symbolic of an unrivaled and legendary wine. Wine was not only the gift lowered from heaven to men to forget sorrows, as recited in a verse by Alcaeus, nor was it the remedy for trouble according to Anacreon, who when he drinks feels as rich as Croesus and master of the world, so much so that referring to a soldier he tells him that when he falls pierced, he will be drunk but alive. We find a similar theme in the Persian poet Omar Khayyam, who reflects on the fact that death is the inevitable conclusion to life and therefore is best experienced in drunkenness.

Not only did poetry celebrate the fruit of the vine and the chalices of its transformation. The bon vivant composer Gioachino Rossini, who achieved a resounding success and devoted himself to the pleasures of life (women and food), was particularly attentive to wine, appreciating its nuances and characteristics, so much so that he gave his written advice as an authentic expert enologist and winemaker to his father, because, in his opinion, to drink good wine one had to "spend a lot of money, and give oneself infinite pains, and wait at least six months." And when Baron Rothschild sent him the best grapes from his renowned vineyards, he replied that the grapes were excellent but he did not like wine in pills. Rothschild took the hint and this time sent bottles.

Ludwig van Beethoven considered music to be the wine that releases the creative moment and described himself as Bacchus pressing the glorious wine of humanity to intoxicate it spiritually. Italian melodrama sprinkles drops of wine in Giuseppe Verdi's Otello and Falstaff, as well as the very famous Libiamo ne' lieti calici (The Drinking Song) in La Traviata, in Gaetano Donizetti's Elisir d'amore. in Pietro Mascagni's Cavalleria rusticana (Viva il vino spumeggiante; Drinking Song), and even in Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Don Giovanni thanks to Giovanni da Ponte's verses praising Marzemino (Finch'han del vino; ‘Champagne Aria’). The Austrian composer very recently made a resounding return to the limelight in all things wine-related when a US study reportedly revealed that the composer's music has a beneficial effect on wine production. After the increase in milk production by cows listening to music in the barns, it is now the time of vineyards. Moreover, it was precisely in Italy, on the Paradiso di Frassina estate, that Carlo Cignozzi's intuition led to the signing of a protocol with the Faculty of Agriculture of the University of Florence to study in the laboratory the effects of low frequencies on plant sensitivity and neurology. After three years, the result show wider, thicker and greener leaves, accelerated metabolism, photosynthesis and ion exchange, early ripening, moderate acidity, and more sugars and polyphenols.

Wine is produced in all the regions of Italy, and it would appear that it is the only nation in the world in which this is the case, obviously considering places where there are the conditions for planting vines. The methanol wine scandal in the second half of the 1980s—once the shock was overcome—has had a positive impact on the entire wine industry and the quality of Italian-made wine. There has even been the revival of ancient grape varieties—previously shelved due to low yield—which, over the past twenty years, have carved out a coveted connoisseur niche market, so much so that they have even become an overhyped fad in the quest for originality at all costs.

Abruzzo, home to the rampant and increasingly popular Montepulciano and the youthful Cerasuolo, and to the prestigious and exclusive Valentini Trebbiano—to be savored in obsessively small doses—has stumbled upon two whites with ancient names but modern allusions that have set creative heads spinning with more than just a few problems: Pecorino and Passerina. More whispered than showed off, for obvious reasons. So much for ius osculi. It is not always possible to celebrate worthily in simple terms the nectar that Pablo Neruda in an ode describes as the color of day and night, with purple feet or topaz blood, starry, smooth as a golden sword, soft as lascivious velvet; and then, transfiguring his beloved, he sees in her side the full curve of the cup, in her breast the grape cluster, in her hair the gleam of spirits. And man should always remember, in the ritual of drinking, “the soil and his duty, and to propagate the canticle of the wine”, for it is more than love, it is “the community of man, translucency, chorus of discipline, abundance of flowers." .

The ephemeral leads him back to love, but always as a gift, to free the imagination above human anguish: Giacomo Leopardi allowed himself the pleasure of wine by sublimating in art that which life and fate denied him. “Drink your wine with a merry heart” is the biblical exhortation found in Genesis. So, Est bibendum not only nunc, now, as Horace urged, but also semper because the verses written by water drinkers, according to him, provide neither long-lasting pleasure nor life. What would life be otherwise?

In vino veritas.



Libiam libiamo, ne’ lieti calici,

che la bellezza infiora;

e la fuggevol fuggevol’ora

s’inebrii a voluttà.

Libiam ne’ dolci fremiti

che suscita l’amore,

poiché quell’occhio al core

Onnipotente va.

Libiamo, amore; amor fra i calici

più caldi baci avrà.



Ah! Libiam, amor fra i calici

Più caldi baci avrà.



Tra voi saprò dividere

il tempo mio giocondo;

tutto è follia follia nel mondo

Ciò che non è piacer.

Godiam, fugace e rapido

è il gaudio dell’amore;

è un fior che nasce e muore,

né più si può goder.

Godiam c’invita c’invita un fervido

accento lusinghier.



Ah! Godiamo, la tazza e il cantico

la notte abbella e il riso,

in questo in questo paradiso

ne scopra il nuovo dì.



La vita è nel tripudio...



Quando non s’ami ancora...



Nol dite a chi l’ignora,



È il mio destin così...



Ah! Godiamo, la tazza e il cantico

la notte abbella e il riso,

in questo in questo paradiso

ne scopra il nuovo dì.



Il brindisi, da “la traviata”,

Musica di Giuseppe Verdi,

libretto di Francesco Maria Piave.


Day-colored wine,
night-colored wine,
wine with purple feet
or wine with topaz blood,
starry child
of earth,
wine, smooth
as a golden sword,
as lascivious velvet,
wine, spiral-seashelled
and full of wonder,
never has one goblet contained you,
one song, one man,
you are choral, gregarious,
at the least, you must be shared.
At times
you feed on mortal
your wave carries us
from tomb to tomb,
stonecutter of icy sepulchers,
and we weep
transitory tears;
spring dress
is different,
blood rises through the shoots,
wind incites the day,
nothing is left
of your immutable soul.
stirs the spring, happiness
bursts through the earth like a plant,
walls crumble,
and rocky cliffs,
chasms close,
as song is born.
A jug of wine, and thou beside me
in the wilderness,
sang the ancient poet.
Let the wine pitcher
add to the kiss of love its own.

My darling, suddenly
the line of your hip
becomes the brimming curve
of the wine goblet,
your breast is the grape cluster,
your nipples are the grapes,
the gleam of spirits lights your hair,
and your navel is a chaste seal
stamped on the vessel of your belly,
your love an inexhaustible
cascade of wine,
light that illuminates my senses,
the earthly splendor of life.

But you are more than love,
the fiery kiss,
the heat of fire,
more than the wine of life;
you are
the community of man,
chorus of discipline,
abundance of flowers.
I like on the table,
when we're speaking,
the light of a bottle
of intelligent wine.
Drink it,
and remember in every
drop of gold,
in every topaz glass,
in every purple ladle,
that autumn labored
to fill the vessel with wine;
and in the ritual of his office,
let the simple man remember
to think of the soil and of his duty,
to propagate the canticle of the wine.


Pablo neruda,

Ode to wine


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