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main index © Jeff Matthews entry Apr. 2003
Everything is related to Naples
Number 125 in this series. Link to all items here.
Wine, Names of Wine & Wine Pest
We had a bottle of good wine some time ago right down on the water's edge of Lake Averno, the place of the fabled descent into the Inferno (from the name "Averno," by the way). Our host told us that his vineyard and a few others down along the slopes of the lake and in a few other places in Italy produced unusual wine for this day and age in Europe; this is because they enjoy the same soil characteristics (having to do with nearby volcanoes and other subterranean goings-on).
Such locations remained immune to the devastating wine pest that spread though European vineyards in the late 1800s. The disease was the result of the Phylloxera aphid, which wiped out many European vineyards. As it turned out, the roots of American vines were immune to Phylloxera, so European wine makers grafted their vines onto American roots to make them less vulnerable to the disease. That saved the European wine industry. But down on Lake Averno, we had some good grape that had never had to be revived. The gentleman showed us a vine that he claims is 250 years old. It is a solid, almost tree-trunk-like affair as it comes out of the ground and is the mother vine for the entire vineyard. I don't know if "mother vine" is legitimate terminology. The Italian word is vitigno, which they distinguish from the smaller, secondary vine—vite—that runs through the vineyard and actually sprouts grapes. There seem to be two words for "vineyard," as well: vigna and vigneto. I don't think there is a difference.
I had not set out to
learn anything about Phylloxera. I started
out looking for strange names of wines, and, as
usual, wandered away into a thicket of miscellany.
The most unusual name for a wine that I have ever
heard actually belongs to a German wine. It is
called Croever Nacktarsch, which is usually
translated euphemistically as "bare bottom," but the
term in German is as vulgar as anyone who can read
English might imagine it to be. Croev is a town on
the Middle Moselle between Zell and Traben Trarbach
in Germany. The label of the wine shows a small boy
being spanked on his bare behind by the inn-keeper,
who has just caught the lad down in the cellar doing
some pre-pubescent wine tasting.
vote for the most amusing name for an Italian wine
goes to Est! Est! Est! —Latin for "This is
it! This is it! This is it!" It seems that in the
year 1111, Henry V of England was on his way to Rome
to be crowned by the Pope. In his entourage was one
Giovanni Deuc, a lover of fine wine. Near
Montefiascone (not far from Lake Bolsena, near
Orvieto, in central Italy), Giovanni sent his
servant, Martin, ahead to scout the potential for
bibbing. The instructions were, "When you find the
good stuff, scrawl 'Est!' on the door of the tavern,
so I know where to stop." Marty was so impressed
with one vintage that he waxed redundantly
enthusiastic and emblazoned "Est! Est! Est!" on the
door. Giovanni apparently drank himself to
death right on the spot. He left money to the town
of Montefiascone to commemorate his fatal binge:
every year, a bottle of Est! Est! Est! is
poured on his tomb, where there is still the legible
inscription: "From too much Est!, here lies
my lord, Giovanni Deuc." I hope that's a true story;
anyone who would make that up must have been
In the Naples area, the most interesting name for a wine is Lachryma Christi (Tears of Christ). It is produced on the fertile slopes of Vesuvius, and the wine is so named because it is here, they say, that Lucifer was cast out of heaven, causing Christ to weep. The funniest name for a local wine comes from Ischia, where they drink Pere 'e palummo, dialect for "Foot of the dove," so called because the ruby-red color of the stems of the vine recalls the coloring of that particular bird's foot. A likely story? Maybe.