Matters of Taste

Martial’s criticism of wines from the Sabine hills was that they were harsh and acidic (see Epigrams X.49). This view was shared by the poet Horace (see Odes and Epodes I.20). By the late 2nd century A.D., however, the lighter Sabine and Tiburtine wines were far more respected, particularly for their medicinal qualities.

Discussions of the relative merits of regional wines were always intense during a gathering of Romans, connoisseurs or otherwise, and not always complimentary. The satirist Martial was relentless in his criticism of wines from the Mount Vatican region that lay beyond Rome's northwestern city limits:

"Should a god himself debit me with nectar, it would turn to vinegar and the treacherous flat content of a Vatican jar." (Epigrams XII.48)

and, though Pliny expressed mild respect for the wines from the Ravenna region of the northeast coast of the Adriatic, Martial berated them as well:

"I would rather have a cistern at Ravenna than a vineyard, since I could sell water at a much better price." (Epigrams III.56)

Wines from Etruria also were not to Roman taste;

"You mix Veientan for me and serve Massic for yourself. I had rather smell these cups than drink." (Epigrams III.49);

nor were those from the Sabine hills (see EpigramsX.49).