Recioto, Maffei, and Cassiodorus: the Italian text

Above: Marquis Francesco Scipione Maffei, 18th-century archeologist, historian, art historian, and philologist (image via Michael Finney Antique Books and Prints).

Over the last few days, a number of people have retweeted my translation of Cassiodorus on Recioto della Valpolicella (Acinaticum) via Marquis Francesco Scipione Maffei (thank you Melissa, Raelinn, Randall, Meg, Lizzy, and Juel).

And yesterday, Italy’s A-number-1 wine blogger, Mr. Franco Ziliani, graciously and generously included it in his weekly wine blogging roundup for the Italian Sommelier Association.

In my initial post, I included my translation of the Cassiodorus text into English along with the original Latin.

Today, for Italian readers, I’m posting the Italian text, transcribed from Maffei’s Verona Illustrata (Verona Illustrated, originally published in 1731-32 in Verona).

If only I had time (and the financial resources) to devote myself full-time to my philological pursuits! Magari! For the time being, my enophilological research has to take a backseat to earthly necessities. It means SO MUCH to me when people enjoy these posts. THANK YOU one and all!

Here’s the text. Buona lettura! (Click here for my English translation.)

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“Non è da tralasciare la distinta memoria di due vini veronesi che ci ha conservata Cassiodoro, scrivendo a colui, che avea cura in queste parti delle contribuzioni fiscali a tempo di Teodorico. Dopo aver premesso, doversi per la Regia mensa far venire d’ogni parte le più rare cose, così proseguisce: ‘e perciò son da procurare i vini, che la feconda Italia singolarmente produce, accioché non paia aver noi trascurate le cose proprie, quando cercar dobbiamo anche le straniere… Spezie di vino veramente degna che se ne vanti l’Italia: imperciocché se bene l’ingegnosa Grecia, di varie e fine diligenze lodata, e condisce i vini suoi con gli odori, o con marine mischianze dà lor sapore, niente ha però di così squisito… il vino Acinatico, che da gli acini ha il nome… Questo è puro, per sapor singolare, Regio per colore; talché o ne’ suoi fonti possa tu creder tinta la porpora, o dalla porpora espresso il liquor suo. La dolcezza in esso si sente con soavità incredibile, si corrobora la densità per non so qual fermezza, e s’ingrossa al tatto in modo, che diresti esser un liquido carnoso, o una bevanda da mangiare… Vogliam riferire quanto particular sia il modo di farlo. Scelta nell’Autunno l’uva dalle viti delle domestiche pergole, sospendesi rivoltata, conservasi ne’ vasi suoi, e negli ordinari repositori si custodisce. S’indura dal tempo, non si liquida: trasudando allora gl’insulsi umori, soavemente addolciscesi. Tirasi fino al mese di Decembre [sic], finché l’inverno la faccia scorrere, e con maraviglia cominci il vino a esser nuovo, avendo in tutte le cantine si trova già vecchio. Mosto invernale, freddo sangue dell’uve, liquor sanguigno, porpora bevibile, violato nettare. Cessa di bollire nella sua prima origine, e quando può farsi adulto, comincia a parere per sempre nuovo. Non si percuote inguirosamente con calci l’uva, né con mischiarvi sordidezza alcuna s’infosca; ma vien’eccitata come alla nobiltà si conviene. Scorre, quando l’acqua indurisce, è feconda, quando ogni frutto de’ campi è svanito, stilla dagli occhi suoi liquor corrispondente, lagrima non so che di giocondo ed oltre al piacer del dolce, singolare è nella vista la sua bellezza'”.

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!

The earliest mention of Vin Santo in print? Maffei, Verona, 1732

Above: I’m borrowing images of grapes recently picked and laid out to dry for Vin Santo from my friends at Il Poggione.

For those of you who have been following my research into the origins of the enonyms Vinsanto (Santorini, Greece) and Vin Santo (Italy), I hope that you will find my most recent discoveries as interesting and exciting as I do.

The first comes from Francesco Scipione Maffei’s history of Verona, Verona Illustrata (parte prima) (Verona, Jacopo Vallarsi e Pierantonio Berno, 1732).

N.B.: for brevity’s sake, I’ve refrained from glossing the historical figures mentioned here. Where possible, I’ve included relevant links. On another occasion, I’ll translate more from Maffei’s wonderful book.

In discussing the historically significant agricultural products of greater Verona, Maffei devotes ample space to the wines, citing mentions in Cassiodorus and in various Roman decrees. Two wines, he writes, were highly coveted by the Romans: one white and one red. He translates (into Italian) Cassidorus’s description of a vinification process for a wine that resembles today’s Recioto di Soave (no surprise here). But a discrepancy in the nomenclature leads him to make the following observation:

    But perhaps [the wine described below] had another name in antiquity, because Pliny omits it. And it seems that [Roman jurist] Ulpian meant something else when he referred to Acinaticum or Acineum in a law.

    Select grapes are stored until December. They are then gently pressed in the great cold [of winter]. The must is stored for a long while without starting fermentation and before laying a hand on it or drinking it.

    [Ancient documents] show that this wine, although red and not white, was the very same wine that we praise today by calling it Santo [holy].

    It is also produced in greater Brescia, from here to the Chiesi river.

    [translation mine]

I believe that this may be the earliest known reference to “Vin Santo” in print (1732). Whether it is or not, it demonstrates that the citizens of the Venetian Republic produced a wine known popularly as “[Vin] Santo.” The fact that it’s mentioned in 1732 reveals that it was popular long before then.

Above: The grapes are laid out to dry on mats called cannicci in Italian.

The second fascinating discovery comes in the form of La teoria e la pratica della Viticultura e della enologia [Theory and Practice of Viticulture and Enology] by Egidio Pollacci (Milano, Fatelli Dumolard, 1883). I’ll let the text speak for itself:

    Vin-santo. — The grapes used to make this wine vary from place to place because the same grape varieties, when cultivated in different regions, naturally deliver fruit of varying character. As a result, grapes good for Vin-santo in one place are difficult to use in other places. In Tuscany, for example, the grapes best suited for Vin-santo are Tribbiano [sic], Canaiolo bianco, and San Colombano. (1)

    (1) Vin-santo di Caluso, which is famous especially in Piedmont, is prepared using grape varieties known locally as Erbaluce and Bonarda. But in other parts of Piedmont, other grapes are used. …

    [translation mine]

In other texts I’ve uncovered, there is clear evidence that the production of Vin Santo was wildly popular in Tuscany by the end of the 19th century. The fact that Pollacci uses Tuscany as an example is indicative of this phenomenon. But what’s important here is the fact that he describes how different grapes are used in different regions, thus revealing that Vin Santo was popular in other parts of Italy as well. The production of Vin Santo in Piedmont was evidently significant enough in the late 19th century that Pollacci (who was from Pistoia) felt compelled to mention it here.

carati

Above: Specially sized oak casks, called caratelli, are used for the long-term aging of Vin Santo.

I wish I had more time to devote to the many interesting texts I’ve “unearthed” recently and Maffei alone would merit his own monographic blog! Alas, it’s time to pay some bills around here… More later… and THANKS SO MUCH FOR READING!