Roman Wine Review: Turriculae

There is a winery called Tourelles, in Provence in Southern France, which makes wine in the old Roman fashion, with a wine press that duplicates Roman design, using the methods described by Roman writers, and adding the same ingredients as the Romans put into their own wines. It's probably as close as anyone can come today to making a wine that a woman or man of 2,000 years ago might sip and find familiar. This is all just very cool.

I visited them recently and tasted and bought bottles of their three Roman vintages. I've never been a wine critic, and I'm probably beginning with a challenge, but here for better or worse are Gary's Roman wine reviews, which I'll post in tasting order.

First off is Turriculae, a white wine with some interesting ingredients.

Turriculae is like no modern wine. The first taste is a surprise, courtesy of the fenugreek. Yep, that's right. Fenugreek. You probably know it as something you put in your curry, but the Romans added fenugreek to their wine. In fact the word fenugreek comes from Latin: foenum graecum means "Greek hay".

As the flavor of the fenugreek dissipates there is a salty aftertaste. That's because Turriculae is 2% saltwater. Saltwater, like, from the sea.

Ahh, they don't make wines like they used to.

This may sound yukky, but after a while, it grows on you. The second night my wife and I drank Turriculae, it tasted nicer than the first, and keep in mind that for hundreds of years wealthy, sane people within the Roman Empire bought this stuff and enjoyed it, so there must be something to it. It's all a matter of fashion and what you're used to.

Romans added seawater as a preservative (the salt), as well as for taste. It's known that the Greeks too sometimes cut their wine with seawater, and they too added spices, so my guess is Turriculae is as close as we can come to duplicating the taste of a Greek wine. (As far as I know, no one is making Classical Greek wines the way this winery is making Roman ones.)

There is no way you could pass off Turriculae as a modern wine. If you served it to friends at a dinner party in an anonymous bottle, the first person to take a swig would clutch their throat and choke; not because there's anything wrong with the wine, but because the taste is so very unexpected.

You might try to pass it off as a liqueur from an exotic locale: "I picked up a few bottles of this while passing through Gallia Narbonensis. Do have a splash, it's quite different."

If you get away with it you then can have fun when you reveal to your friends what they've drunk and what's in it, plus you get to show how erudite you are with the joke about Gallia Narbonensis. (It's the name of the Roman province that included Provence).

As you can probably tell, although it was way cool to be drinking Turriculae, I would not walk through ten foot snow drifts to drink any more. But that's only me, and since I dislike all liqueurs and spirits, and Turriculae reminds me a little bit of a liqueur in taste, someone who likes that kind of thing should try it. In fact, everyone should try it at least once if only so you can say you have.

If Roman wine interests you, then check out the blog for Mulsum and Carenum.

No comments: