Source: Italian Wine c. 1900   Leave a comment

A description of the wine industry in Italy c. 1900. The author has the temerity to lump Italian wine together with Hungarian! SY

Despite the fact that to the efforts and enterprise of Italy the majority of the civilized portion of the world is indebted for its primal knowledge of the grape and its use, Italy itself is at the present day very backward in viticulture and vinification. There always have been, and there are today, large quantities of wine made in backward. Italy, but when the wines are tested, in comparison with wines from France, Austria, Germany, and other countries, the best that can be said of them is that they are indifferent. Oenology has not as yet received very much attention in Italy, and as long as the present state of affairs exists, the outlook for improvement is very poor indeed. The climate and soil are almost perfection, and if the vineyards could be influenced by a little touch of progress, the story of the vine in Italy would be written in far different language. But, like Spain, Italy has little if any ambition, and the spirit of emulation is an unknown quantity.

Perhaps the ease with which the vine grows has much to do with this indifference on the part of those who are expected to cultivate it and from it derive a goodly portion of their living, for, as said above, the climate and soil are as near perfection as it is possible to conceive. A cutting placed in the ground at almost any season of the year takes root, and though neglected almost entirely will in a very short space of time bear fruit that under a proper mode of vinification would make perfect wine.

The southern portion of the peninsula produces several very fine wines, but by no means as many or as much as if proper care and attention were bestowed upon their cultivation. As in Dalmatia, the vineyards are often planted with other crops, much to the detriment of the grapes. The vine is often grown on the edge of fields where large trees are growing, upon which it climbs and twines in unrestricted luxuriance of leaf and wood, but, comparatively speaking, very little fruit. In many places pruning is only done when the vines become so large that they prove to be a nuisance, and then only that part is curtailed which has protruded itself upon an object thought to be of more value.

The possibilities and advantages of Italy have long been known and recognized, and of late years many vineyards have been planted and owned by people from other lands, especially from England ; and the wines they make are rapidly growing in favor, both in Italy and abroad. The Italians have one habit that our American. farmers would do well to follow, and which rightly they should do. Instead of selling the best wine that he produces, the Italian keeps it for his own family, and disposes of that for which he does not care. The difference between the wines that are for sale and those that are given to guests, be they friends or even travellers sojourning in the neighborhood, is very great indeed and is often a subject of comment by those who are fortunate enough to receive the hospitality of some person who makes his own wine.

The nobility of Italy has never been loth to sell wine in order to raise even a little money. Many of the old palaces are fitted with a small window or wicket, only large enough for a flask or bottle to pass through, and no matter how insignificant may be the amount wanted, it is readily given in return for ‘spot cash’, so anxious are they to derive from their estate something that will enable them to live in a manner more or less befitting their station.

Many of the wines made in Italy are so light in character that they will not bear transportation, and it is necessary for one to be in the land to form any idea as to their quality and standard. But this absence need not be greatly deplored, for the majority of the wines are so indifferent that they are not worth the testing, unless you are really desirous of knowing how poor a wine can be.

In many instances what were supposed to be the vineyards of the ancient Romans are in use today, a mute testimonial of the fertility of the soil, and a living acknowledgment of the life-giving qualities of the climate; for from the air as much as from the soil the grape derives its being. Both air and soil must be conducive to life, or the vine will wither and die, or if not dying, its fruit will be useless, if perchance it should fruit at all. A vine once planted and started in Italy, especially in the southern part, lives far beyond the allotted life of man, and ofttimes beyond his memory.

A wine that by some is thought to be the Falernian wine of the ancients is the Lacrima Christi; can be taken cum grano salis, for what little we do know of Falernian is just the opposite of Lacrima. In the first place, Falernian was a harsh, astringent wine, and requiring long cellarage to perfect it, while Lacrima is a rich, sweet, luscious wine, ripening very quickly ; no country can produce a finer or more delicate wine than this, when it is made properly and cared for attentively. Very little of the genuine is made, even in the most favorable years, and as a rule that is all taken by the powers that be for their own use. For many years a notion prevailed that it was dangerous for any one to drink of this wine, unless acclimated to the country. The proximity of the volcano Vesuvius to the vineyards in which it is made gave rise to this opinion; it was thought that the mountain’s influence on the grapes was of such a nature that, unless a person had lived in the locality for some time and had become used to it, or in other words had been inoculated, the wine would be dangerous to drink. This idea has been long exploded, and the only real danger now to be apprehended lurks in the fact that one seldom gets the genuine to drink, even when it is sold as such by respectable people and at a price that seems almost a sufficient guaranty; for many gallons of Lacrima are sold that are no more Lacrima than Madeira is sherry. Either from design or accident is very limited in Italy.

A wine that is made in the south will bear the same name as one made in the north, or vice versa, and nomenclature, what is more remarkable, the two wines will not resemble each other any more than claret resembles port wine. For many centuries vineyards thrived and grew in the lava that flowed down the sides of Vesuvius, hiding from view the city of Pompeii; it was only in the middle of the eighteenth century that it became known that beneath the roots of these vines lay the ruins of a city, where the Falernian once flowed to the song of the bard and the music of the lyre.

The season of the vintage is still observed in Italy with much pomp and ceremony, and great rejoicing. Bacchus is still revered, and The joyous vintage many offerings are made to him. The season. vintage generally occurs in the later part of September, and the festival savors of the old Dionysia, purged to a great degree of its ancient licentiousness, but retaining many of its important and salient features. Masks are worn in the procession, and song and dancing still retain their hold upon the people. In many places, and especially near Naples, the oscilla or masks of Bacchus are still hung in the vineyards upon the growing vines, so that the season may prove propitious and prosperity be the lot of the vineyardist.

Great quantities of wine are drunk on these occasions, but drunkenness or intoxication is seldom met with, for as a rule the people of Italy are sober, though miserably poor. The methods of the vintage, if such they may be called, are reprehensible to a degree that could only be tolerated in a land where the thoughts of the morrow never enter the mind, and the idea of providing for old age is a fancy vague and dim. Carelessness, wastefulness, and dirtiness are carelessness, the three primal factors of an Italian vintage; careless in the way the grapes are dirtiness, gathered and taken to the press; wasteful as regards the picking, many of the best clusters being allowed to remain on the vine to rot, while cluster after cluster is spilled upon the ground to be trampled upon by man and beast; dirty as to the condition of the presses, which are never cleaned, and also as to the vessels which are to hold the must after it is expressed from the grapes. In fact, this filthiness is carried so far that the wine is often spoiled before it has ceased fermenting. And this exists in a country that can raise such wine as to induce a man to tarry and drink of it until death ensues inconsequence.

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Posted January 18, 2011 by zachmon in Uncategorized

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