We prepared to go to Rome by reading a variety of books that were every bit as delicious as the foods and wines themselves. There is a movement in Italy toward replicating the ancient wines of the Romans, who were wine saavy from top to bottom. We set out to find and drink wines the ancients themselves would have enjoyed. Our second quest had to do with that eternal question “do they actually send us the good stuff, or keep it all for themselves?”.

The Romans brilliantly classified wine as a god and a gift from the gods, it covered all parts of their lives , as an essential component of their export economy, an everyday beverage at the table, a highlight of important meals and the world’s greatest wines- it was all there, and we sought out to find one of each type in eight days in Rome. To search out the wines of the Romans you had to look to the south in Italy. The Romans cared nothing of Tuscany (our modern ideal vacation) – it was all about Campania, Apulia and Abruzzi- places that until the recent Roman revival quest had all but fallen off the planet.


There wasn’t a restaurant that had a table absent of a bottle accompanied with glasses. Some humble (water glasses), some ornate (fine crystal ). Our everyday wine appeared in an anonymous pitcher accompanied by water glasses with a total lack of fanfare. Ristorante der Pallaro on the little backstreet of the same name served up a wine that the Roman everyman would have quaffed down with their meal. Montepulciano d’Abruzzo – young, fresh red, ideal with the six course meal.

There is actually a higher quality genuine wine available here. The only thing lacking are those ancient streets, buildings and momma in apron and scarf. Masciarelli Montepulciano d’ Abruzzo, $10.00-$12.00. Montepulciano is the grape and Abruzzo the place. This fleshy, exuberant wine is your pairing with all things pasta. Their Trebbiano d’Abruzzo $10.00-12.00, is young and fresh with antipasto. It is all about the atmosphere- the wines are identical.


The Mastroberardino family has owned a winery on the hill of Civita ( a prized Roman vineyard site) since the 1790’s. They sought out the nearly extinct “archaeological grapes”- falanghina, fiano di Avellino and Greco di tufo to replicate wines from the grapes of the ancients. We had these wines at Ristorante Settimio and L’Angolo Sivino (wine bar enoteca) in Rome. The wines (all white) have a hazelnut and almond character that is full and rich without oak aging. Their Aglianico Campagna, a bold eye opening red is “The Barolo of the south”. It is an utterly amazing wine with wild boar, pheasant (or, just plain old rib eye steak). Mastroberardino is to Campagna as Mondavi is to Napa. The only difference is that Mondavi didn’t dig up any ancient grapes.

The best news is that they are produced and distributed in quantities that can be found locally. Just ask where you shop. They will run $20-$25.00 retail and are a very different treat.

Some good reads: Dionysus: A Social History of the Wine Vine by Edward Hyams, 1966. A classic that transports you into the ancient Roman vineyard. Making Sense of Italian Wine by Matt Kramer. From the everyday to the totally obscure in Italian wine. A fabulous winelist on line: A little wine bar off the piazza Navona that carries 1,800 wines.


Layne Witherell

About Layne Witherell

I have been a wine professional for 30 years, engaged in retail buying, wholesale, importing, winery management, wine education, a talk show host, wine list author, wine columnist and author of a book : Wine Maniacs: Life in the Wine Biz.