Page images

juice is expressed. The skins are then subjected to the wooden press, which gives a second and ordinary quality of wine, and water is frequently poured over them as they dry.

The juice, after it is expressed, is poured into large butts and covered over. For weeks it boils and bubbles in violent fermentation, throwing to the surface all the dirt, stalk, and extraneous substances that may have fallen into it. This is constantly skimmed and thrown away. Therefore, my most fastidious friends, do not let your pleasure in drinking the Italian wine be marred by thoughts of the uncleanliness of the feet that tread it out. Not only they are washed and scrubbed well before the grapes are danced upon, but, even were they not, the boiling wine would throw off in its scum every particle of uncleanliness. It is not till Tutti Santi' (All Saints) that the wine bas become quiet enough to drink, and then it is crude and asciutto By January it has become refined, so that its flavour can really be judged.

When the wine is made, the vintage procession takes place. This ceremony, in which the classical and the modern are sometimes ludicrously mingled together, is always amusing and picturesque. If you would really see it in its perfection you must go into the mountain towns far from the city, for old customs are sadly dying out in the highway of travel, and the last fifty years have done more to obliterate the traces of classical customs in modern Italy than previous centuries had been able to effect.

The procession is lead off by the handsomest contadino, who is chosen on the occasion by his comrades to represent Bacchus. He is crowned with ivy and vine leaves mixed with grapes, and carries in his hand a thyrsus twined with flowers, leaves, and ivy, and tipped with a pine-cone as in the ancient days. Instead of a panther's or leopard's hide, a fresh, well-dressed sheepskin, stained with wine to represent its spotted skin, is swung from his shoulder. After him come groups of women clad in

[blocks in formation]

their richest costumes, bearing on their heads baskets of grapes, and boys carrying clusters of grapes in their hands. Bacchante and Lence, waving cane poles entwined with vine sprays, or beating their ringing tambourines, thrumming their guitars or mandolines, and pumping their accordions, flock all around him. Then come great carri, richly adorned with bright colours, leaves and flowers, tugged along by creamy oxen stained with grape-juice; and, finally, the procession closes by a fat fellow, with a stuffed paunch, on a donkey, tricked out in some bumorous way, and his face stained with grapes, who represents Silenusand grimaces, sings, and rolls about on his long-eared beast, pretending to be drunk. This is the wit of the town, and he has full license on this occasion to abuse everybody and scatter his sarcasms right and left. Outside are contadini with lighted torches, who wave them to and fro as they go, after the antique custom-and with beating of tambourines, mandolines, and guitars, screaming of horns, wild Campagna songs, shouts of Viva Bacco! (Evoe Bacchus !) Viva la Vendemmia !—dancing, grimacing, and gesticulating, the joyous procession makes its festive way along the fields and town. The very parocco himself does not disdain to enter heart and soul into the festival, and to join in the procession.

The vine in the Roman States is trained upon cane poles, placed at regular distances from each other in long lines, and often interlaced into a sort of diamonded fencework. Near the house there is almost invariably a long covered arbour or pergola, over which the grape-vines are trained, and this frequently surmounts a loggia, under the green shadow of wbich one may be protected from the sun even in high noon. When the ripe grapes hang their tempting clusters overhead, and Roman girls lean over the loggia wall, or dance the saltarello under it, the effect is very picturesque. These pergole make a striking feature of all the Campagna houses and wayside osterias; and under them is generally a stone table or bench, where the


family come to sit, and the frequenters of the osteria take their wine or dinner.

The vines are well cultivated, and bear delicious grapes; but nothing can be more careless than the manner in which the wine is made. No pains are taken in the selection and distribution of the grapes so as to obtain different qualities of wine, but good and bad, stems and all, are cast pell-mell into one great vat, and the result, of course, is a wine far inferior to that which might be produced. Were the Romans as careful and skilful as the French in their modes of manufacture, they might produce wines equal, if not superior, to the best wines of Burgundy. When any care, however, is expended in its manufacture, the wine is very

rich and full-flavoured, and has great body. The strongest wine is that grown in the vineyards near Genzano and Velletri, and the lightest and most delicate comes from the country about Orvieto. The Orvieto is a pale faint-coloured wine, of a sweetish flavour, half way between the purest cider and champagne. It comes to Rome in thin bulbous flasks, half covered with a net-work of woven flags or straw, and is sold at two pauls the flask in retail. The sweet Frascati wine is more robust and less delicate in flavour.

In the northern portions of the Roman States the richest and most esteemed wine is the famous Est, grown in the vicinity of Montefiascone. It owes its name to the Bishop Johann Fugger, who, being fond of good living, was in the habit of sending his servant before him, whenever he travelled, to ascertain where the best wines were to be found, so that the worthy bishop might take his night's repose at towns where he could best satisfy his palate. The servant, wherever he found a good wine, wrote on the walls the Latin word est (it is); and when he came to Montefiascone, so impressed was he with the excellence of its wine that he wrote est, est, est, to signify that it was trebly good; and so indeed the excellent bishop found it to his cost, for here he died, as the story goes, from partaking of it too freely. In the cathedral, anyone who


[blocks in formation]

doubts the fact, may see his monument, with this inscription, written by his valet: 'Est-est-est. Propter nimium est, Joannes de Foucris, dominus meus, mortuus est.'

The famous setinum of the ancient Romans, which was the favourite beverage of Augustus and his courtiers, and is celebrated by Martial and Juvenal, grew upon the hills around Setia (now Sezze), a little mountain town near the confines of the Roman and Neapolitan States, overhanging the Pontine marshes, and is of a similar quality to that grown at Velletri. Previous to his time, the Cæcuban wine which was produced in the vicinity of Fundi (now Fondi), was considered the best, but in time it degenerated through the carelessness of the cultivators, and lost its reputation.

The second rank among wines was given to the Falernian, which was grown on the agger Faustianus, a small district extending between the Massic Hills around Sezze to the river Volturno. This was a rough, heady wine, which was softened by honey. It required a maturing of ten years. before it was in its prime for drinking, and then preserved its good qualities for twenty additional years. When drunk before maturity it produced headache and irritated the nervous system. The best of the Falernian vineyards are now in the hands of Messrs. Cotterell and Company, English bankers at Naples; and the wine, which is better made than it was by the ancient Romans, is still much esteemed.

The Latin poets have made the Falernian familiar to all by their praises, and Horace was evidently addicted to it :

Est, qui nec veteris pocula Massici,
Nec partem solido demere de die
Spernit. (Od. i. 1.)

The Albanum, which was grown on the Alban Hill, was in the third rank, and was of various qualities: the austerum, which is now called asciutto, red and roughish on the tongue, like the Velletri and Genzano wines; the dulce or sweet wine, such as that of Frascati; and the tenue or thin wines, which were of the class of the Orvieto. The

distinctions now are only between the dolce and asciutto, and the ro880 and bianco.

These wines are still in some places kept in sheepskins, after the manner of the ancients, but ordinarily they are stored in great butts and drawn off into quaterole, or small barrels, to be carried to Rome. The tall two-wheeled wine carts, on which they are packed in regular rows, are very picturesque. A triangular hood, covered with rough, undressed sheepskin, and supported on poles, is fixed on the left side of the carretta, under the shade of which the driver sits and sleeps as he jars along the road. It is drawn by one horse, whose head-stall is decorated with a tall pompoon or tuft of cocks' feathers arising between his ears. The saddle is surmounted by handles or horns, studded thickly over with brass nails, and suspended between them in a thin circular or semi-lunar brass plate that revolves in its sockets with every movement of the horse. Under his belly and close to his jaw is a string of bells, fixed to a band of fur, that jingle as he goes. A little dog of the Pomeranian breed invariably accompanies the carvetta, sleeps, eats, and lodges there, faithfully guarding it day and night, and showing his white teeth with a sharp, piercing, and continuous yell, rather than bark, if anyone approaches.

The carrettieri, who are merely carriers, and not proprietors of the freight they carry, generally set off in the latter part of the afternoon, and if their journey be long they travel all night, resting during the bours when the heat of the sun would set the wine into fermentation. They certainly do not enjoy a very good reputation for honesty, and not only levy very free contributions on their freight, for their own internal well-being-considering with St. Paul that a little wine is good for the stomach's sake-but also sell it out along the road, supplying the void they make by the addition of wholesome spring water; so that the full-bodied Villetri often grows very feeble before it reaches its destination in Rome.

This, however, is the least danger which the wine incurs.


« PreviousContinue »