Recioto della Valpolicella, an ancient pitch by Cassiodorus

Above: I snapped this photo of Tracie P when we visited the Valpolicella together with Alfonso in early 2011.

In every book about Italian wine and every promotional text you read about the Valpolicella and Soave, there is always an obligatory mention of the wine produced in antiquity there, Acinaticum. But none of them — to my knowledge — ever reproduces or reprints the primary texts where the wine is mentioned.

In the course of my research of the origins of the enonyms Vin Santo (Italian) and Vinsanto (Greek), I came across a wonderful tome entitled Verona Illustrata (Verona Illustrated, originally published in 1731-32 in Verona) by the Marquis Francesco Scipione Maffei. Not only was Maffei an archeologist and chronicler of Verona’s history, he was also a philologist. And one of his most important contribution to classical studies was his translation and study of a manuscript containing the letters of late-Roman-era statesman Cassiodorus (some believe that Maffei was the first to discover the vellum-bound handwritten book).

Over the weekend, as I was working on a short piece on the Veneto that will be published later this year in Italy, I revisited the text and have rendered a translation of — what I consider — a salient passage below on Acinaticum.

The most remarkable thing I discovered was that Cassiodorus was writing to the Canonicarius Venetiarum — the treasurer of the Veneto region under Rome — imploring him to buy Acinaticum for the royal table. In essence, it was a sales pitch for the unusual wine of Valpolicella. I have translated it from the Latin using Maffei’s Italian translation as a guide. It is one of the most inspiring pieces of wine writing I have ever read… and a wonderful pitch!

I love when he writes, “On the palate, it swells up in such a way that you would say it was a meaty liquid, a beverage to be eaten rather than drunk” (“tactus eius densitate pinguescit, ut dicas esse aut carneum liquorem aut edibilem potionem”).

Buona lettura!

Italy rightly boasts of its truly worthy types of wines. And for however much we praise the ingenious Greeks for their wide variety of wines and their skill in dressing their wines with aromas and sea mixtures to give them flavor, they have nothing as exquisite as this…. The wine called Acinaticum, which takes its name from the acino or [grape] berry.

It is pure, singular in flavor and regal in color, so much so that you would say that it has been used to dye crimson [fabric] or that it is the liquid pressed from crimson. The sweetness in it is incredibly delicate and its density is formed by a firmness [in texture] unknown to me. On the palate, it swells up in such a way that you would say it was a meaty liquid, a beverage to be eaten rather than drunk.

The grapes are selected from vines [trained] on locally managed pergolas, they are hung upside down, and [then] they are stored in their amphoras, the regular vessels used [for their vinification]. With time the grapes become hard but do not turn into liquid. They sweat out their insipid fluid and become delicately sweet. This continues until December when the winter begins to make their juice run, and, wondrously, the wine becomes new [fresh] even as you find wine already mature in all the other cellars. The winter must — the cold blood of the grapes, the bloody fluid — [becomes] potable crimson, violet nectar. It stops boiling [fermenting] in its youth and when it is able to become an adult, it once again becomes new [fresh] wine.

The grapes are not tread with injurious shoes! Nor is any filth allowed to mix with them. They are stimulated [i.e., vinified] in accordance with their nobility. [During the time of the year when] the water hardens [freezes], the liquid flows. When all fruit has disappeared from the fields, this wine is fertile and its noble fluid oozes from its buds. I am unable to describe the goodness of its tears. And beyond the pleasure of its sweetness, its beauty is singular to behold.

Latin (unabridged):

Et ideo procuranda sunt vina, quae singulariter fecunda nutrit Italia, ne qui externa debemus appetere, videamur propria non quaesisse. comitis itaque patrimonii relatione declaratum est acinaticium, cui nomen ex acino est, enthecis aulicis fuisse tenuatum. [3] Et quia cunctae dignitates invicem sibi debent necessaria ministrare, quae probantur ad rerum dominos pertinere, ad possessores Veronenses, ubi eius rei cura praecipua est, vos iubemus accedere, quatenus accepto pretio competenti nullus tardet vendere quod principali gratiae deberet offerre. digna plane species, de qua se iactet Italia. nam licet ingeniosa Graecia multifaria se diligentiae subtilitate commendet et vina sua aut odoribus condiat aut marinis permixtionibus insaporet, sub tanta tamen exquisitione reperitur simile nil habere. Hoc est enim merum et colore regium et sapore praecipuum, ut blattam aut ipsius putes fontibus tingi aut liquores eius a purpura credantur expressi. dulcedo illic ineffabili suavitate sentitur: stipsis nescio qua firmitate roboratur: tactus eius densitate pinguescit, ut dicas esse aut carneum liquorem aut edibilem potionem. libet referre quam singularis eius videatur esse collectio. autumno lecta de vineis in pergulis domesticis uva resupina suspenditur, servatur in vasis suis, thecis naturalibus custoditur. rugescit, non liquescit ex senio: tunc fatuos humores exsudans magna suavitate dulcescit. Trahitur ad mensem Decembrem, donec fluxum eius hiemis tempus aperiat, miroque modo incipit esse novum, quando cellis omnibus reperitur antiquum. hiemale mustum, uvarum frigidus sanguis, in rigore vindemia, cruentus liquor, purpura potabilis, violeum nectar defervet primum in origine sua et cum potuerit adulescere, perpetuam incipit habere novitatem. non calcibus iniuriose tunditur nec aliqua sordium ammixtione fuscatur, sed, quemadmodum decet, nobilitas tanta provocatur. defluit, dum aqua durescit: fecunda est, cum omnis agrorum fructus abscedit. distillat gemmis comparem liquorem: iucundum nescio quid illacrimat et praeter quod eius delectat dulcedo, in aspectu singularis eius est pulchritudo.

If any of you Latinists want to help me refine the translation, please do so by leaving alternative translations or suggestions in the comments! Thanks in advance!

11 thoughts on “Recioto della Valpolicella, an ancient pitch by Cassiodorus

  1. Jeremy,
    This is precisely the kind of work where you excel into a league of your own. This piece balances the didactic with a narrative that all of us in wine can grasp with ease. I am often envious of your skills in philology and when they meet my passion for Italian wine I am doubly humbled.
    Keep up the great work!

  2. I agree with Michael, Jeremy. Excellently done.

    By the way, when I was with Luca Fedrigo of L’Arco for the first time, he told me, “Recioto [ the sort of wine you describe] is the real Valpolicella.”

  3. i will never forget the recioto that we shared in the cellar at quintarelli! one of the best wines that i’ve ever had. it’s no wonder that it has inspired such praise and passion for so long.

    great work 2B :)

  4. Complimenti! I concur with everyone’s comments above. Thanks to your beautiful talents and skill we are able to experience a very passionate and persuasive piece of ancient wine writing.

  5. Nice post, Jeremy. I wrote a book wholly dedicated to Recioto della Valpolicella, many years ago…and now I’m afraid that is very difficult to find it in italian bookshps! Even in Verona!

  6. Absolutely love this post – thank you so much! I’ve just got back from Valpolicella where I visited Accordini. I tasted Accordini’s wines, especially the Recioto Classico Acinatico, and so, was thrilled to read the background to this word in your post. JM

  7. Absolutely agree with this post !
    I visited Fratelli Vogadori where i tasted their wines, the Recioto Classico was so fantastic!

  8. My sincere congratulations to all.

    It is very easy to be passionate about Recioto: the mother of all red wines in Valpolicella.

    I have been promoting it since 1971! with great difficulty.
    Everyon likes it: the problem is finding it. Few list it; and major Off-Trade outlets are reluctant to do so.

    Soon to be available from Anne Forrest at Direct

  9. Hi, you can find Hodgkin’s translation of Cassiodorus already made for you here

    “It is in truth a noble wine and one that Italy may be proud of. Inglorious Greece may doctor her wines with foreign admixtures, or disguise them with perfumes. There is no need of any such process with this liquor. It is purple, as becomes the wine of kings. Sweet and strong, it grows more dense in tasting it, so that you might doubt whether it was a liquid food or an edible drink”

    either way, a wonderful thing!

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