Falernian wine (Latin: Falernum) was produced from Aglianico grapes (and quite possibly Greco as well) on the slopes of Mt. Falernus near the border of Latium and Campania, where it became the most renowned wine produced in ancient Rome. Considered a "first growth" or "cult wine" for its time, it was often mentioned in Roman literature, but has since disappeared. There were three vineyards (or appellations) recognized by Romans: Caucinian Falernian from the vineyards on the highest slopes of Mount Falernus; Faustian Falernian, the most famous, from land on the central slopes corresponding to the current hilly areas of the town of Falciano del Massico and Carinola di Casanova, owned by Faustus, son of the Roman dictator Sulla; and wine from the lower slopes and plain that was simply called Falernian. The area is now occupied by the modern day vineyards of Rocca di Mondragone and Monte Massico.
Falernian was a white wine with a relatively high alcohol content, possibly 30 proof, or 15% ABV. In describing Faustian Falernian, Pliny the Elder alluded to this as he noted "It is the only wine that takes light when a flame is applied to it". It was produced from late-harvested grapes exclusively as a brief freeze or a series of frosts were said to improve the resulting wine's flavor. The wine was typically allowed to maderise, aging for 15–20 years in clay amphorae before drinking. The oxidation gave the wine a color of amber to dark brown. In 37 BC, Varro wrote in Res Rusticae that Falernian increased in value as it matured, and Pliny recorded that Falernian from the famed Opimian vintage of 121 BC was served at a banquet in 60 BC honoring Julius Caesar for his conquests in Spain. There were three notable varieties: Dry (Latin austerum), Sweet (dulce), and Light (tenue).
Popularity in Roman times
The physician and gourmet Galen, writing c. AD 180, doubted that all the Falernian wine on sale in the Roman Empire could possibly be genuine. Evidently it was still all too popular at that date. It was one of the first wines to be exported to Britain while it was a Roman settlement, but for whatever reason, Falernian must have gradually lost favour under the later Roman empire, though it was still one of the seven named (and more expensive) wines whose maximum price for army purchase was laid down by the emperor Diocletian around AD 300.
As part of the ruins of ancient Pompeii, a price list on the wall of a bar establishment notes
The Roman poet Catullus extolled the virtues of Falernian in one of his poems
- Come, boy, you who serve out the old Falernian,
- fill up stronger cups for me,
- as the law of Postumia, mistress of the revels, ordains,
- Postumia more tipsy than the tipsy grape.
- But water, begone, away with you, water,
- destruction of wine, and take up abode
- with scrupulous folk. This is the pure Thyonian god.
It was also the wine that Petronius, in the Satyricon, has Trimalchio serve at his dinner banquet. Quintus Dellius complained to Cleopatra that while he and other dignitaries were served sour wine by Antony in Greece, Augustus' catamite was drinking Falernian in Rome. This refers to Sarmentus, the former slave of Marcus Favonius, who was bought by Octavian and whom enemies of Octavian claimed to be a catamite, although historian Josiah Osgood dismisses this as nothing more than a slander "planted by supporters of Marc Anthony".
- Andrew Dalby, Food in the Ancient World from A to Z. London, New York: Routledge, 2003. ISBN 0-415-23259-7.
- J. Robinson Vines, Grapes & Wines pgs 213 & 242 Mitchell Beazley 1986 ISBN 1-85732-999-6
- Hugh Johnson, Vintage: The Story of Wine pg 62. Simon and Schuster 1989
- R. Garr "Greco di Tufo" 30 Second Wine Advisor April 24, 2002
- The history of drinking - Uncorking the past - Economist.com
- The Fourteenth Booke of Plinies Naturall History
- Wine and Rome
- The Rise of Local Wines
- Hugh Johnson, Vintage
- Catullus 27
- Plutarch, Life of Antony
- Osgood, J. Caesar's Legacy: Civil War and the Emergence of the Roman Empire, CUP, 2006, p. 264, at books.google.com, accessed 25 May 2009