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”).
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.
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.  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!