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The Wine and Fraschette of the Castelli Romani

The origin of viticulture and the fraschette in the Castelli Romani dates back to ancient times, blending with mythology. Legends surrounding vine and wine abound, often featuring a god gifting the precious plant to humanity.

Wine from Janus to Cicero

Saturn, expelled from Olympus by Jupiter, sought refuge in Latium, specifically in the Castelli Romani, where he taught vine cultivation to Janus (known as Enotrio). Numa Pompilius, Rome’s second king, found the sapling in Nemi and bring it to Rome, along with a fig tree and an olive branch. All three trees found a home in the Forum, acquiring sacred and symbolic meanings.

The Romans rapidly developed vine cultivation, so much so that by the time of the Republic’s early days, locally produced wine couldn’t meet demand. Cicero, from his Villa at Tusculum, wrote, “… I’m fond not only of the wine’s utility, … but also of its cultivation and nature itself…”.

Viticulture arrives in the Castelli Romani

The statutes granted to the city of Frascati by Marcantonio Colonna, Lord and Vicar of Pope Julius II della Rovere in 1515. Established zones for vineyards, methods to determine the grape harvest time, and regulated wine trade.

Sante Lacerio, butler to Pope Paul III (1534-1549), in a letter wrote about the quality of wines. He asserts that, in his opinion, the best wine is produced in Frascati, Marino, and Grottaferrata.

The new philosophical conception of the Renaissance placed man and his secular life at the center of attention. And gave new impetus to the research and valorization of earthly goods. Eager to benefit from the healthy climate of Tuscolo, popes, courtiers, and wealthy Roman families rebuilt abandoned villas and palaces, revitalizing  countryside activities.

The Popes and the fraschette

The over thousand taverns in the area, the fraschette, marked by a laurel branch hanging outside, fascinated Romans, nobles, and passing visitors. Mostly owned by wine producers, these establishments gave rise to rituals and customs that have endured to this day. Here, one drinks “the wine of the Castelli” served in special glass containers linked to the history of the Popes.

Taxes on wine provided significant revenue to the church, so in the mid-1500s, innkeepers fraudulently filled mainly terracotta or metal vessels. By not filling the cup completely, they “cheated” customers with the so-called “sfogliettatura.” To prevent this malpractice, Pope Sixtus V Peretti, known for his firmness, had glass containers of various capacities made to ensure the exact amount of wine served.

Additionally, in 1580, Pope Gregorio XIII introduced the “mezza fojetta” in hopes of limiting Romans’ wine consumption.

The measures:

  • er barzillai (named after a late 19th to early 20th-century Roman politician who used to offer large quantities of wine to his voters) = 2 liters
  • tubbo = 1 liter
  • fojetta = 1/2 liter
  • quartino (or  ½ fojetta) = 1/4 liter
  • chierichetto = 1/5 liter
  • sospiro (or sottovoce – because pronounced softly, either due to its small size or because of embarrassment for not having enough money to drink more!) = 1/10 liter
With the Blog of Rome and Latium Region Around Rome guides you to discover places and territories for the pleasure of satisfying curiosity and putting culture at the service of people and businesses.
Edited by il NETWORK | text and photo  Ezio Bocci

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