Roman Wine and the Grand Tour event at The Sir John Soane Museum


Vinalia Priora was the title of tonight’s event at the Sir John Soane Museum.

Evening events there are always quite magical. Candlelight and the feelings of time gone past. Backstage in the basement, hours before the event started, involved dignified members of the museum staff decanting bottles, infusing saffron, trying to grind date stones (impossible), recreating Roman nibbles courtesy of Waitrose.

The planning for this event was a year in the making. From thinking up a concept which would direct guests to some of the classical collections gathered by Sir John Soane, I designed a tasting which would take us back in time to classical Rome and back again using the evolution of Roman wine-making techniques.

Part of my research included visiting Mas de Tourelles to see how they make their Roman wines, recreating Roman drinks, and research into how Roman wine was made and which wines are still use some of these obscure techniques.

Fumarium or wine-smoking room at Glanum, near St Remy

Fumarium or wine-smoking room at Glanum, near St Remy

During the evening I presented an illustrated talk about Sir John Soane, the Grand Tour, Roman wine and the connections with wine available at the turn of the nineteenth century and today. The museum then hosted tastings in various rooms of the museum.

We served:

  • Solera Jerezana Palo Cortado Sherry
  • Triade 2010 Campania, Italy. From ‘Felix Campania’, home of some of the best wines in Roman times. Made from three very old grapes which were possibly used to make wines in classical Rome: Fiano, Falanghina and Greco.
  • Vito Curatolo Arini Marsala Superiore Seco NV Sicily. Made using a process called in perpetuum. The main grapes are Grillo, Inzolia, and Catarratto.
  • Carenum, Mas de Tourelles. Made according to a recipe by the Roman Palladius, in which very ripe grapes are fermented with plants, quince and defrutum.
  • Retsina NV, Greece
  • Turriculae, Mas de Tourelles. From a recipe by Columella, in which sea water, fenugreek and defrutum are added to white wine.
  • Balsamic Vinegar

A recipe from Apicus. I like to think that this is as a Roman version of punch! I have yet to try it with the mastic, which would give a slightly piney character to the drink, and the crushed dates stones did not work for me – difficult to crush and no identifiable benefit other than a hard crunchy deposit which needed filtering out!)

A modern adaptation gives:

  • 3/4c honey
  • 1 750ml bottle of sweet white wine – not an aromatic muscat
  • 2 tsp crushed allspice
  • 1 pinch mastic
  • 1 bay (laurel) leaf
  • 1 pinch saffron
  • 1/2 tsp crushed/roasted date stones

Allow to infuse overnight.

One thought on “Roman Wine and the Grand Tour event at The Sir John Soane Museum

  1. Pingback: Heating Spiced Wines and Beers in Britain | A History of the World Through a Bowl of Punch

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