Myrrh by Chance

Close-up of the sidewall of the
Crawford Cupshowing the typical banding
structure of fluorospar.

An intriguing sidebar to the story of pitch-flavored wines is the suggestion, which appears in several literary sources, that the flavor and bouquet of a good vintage was improved by drinking it from a vasa murrina—thus:

"If you drink from it hot, the vasa myrrhina suits the ardent Falernian and gives the wine a better flavor." (Martial, Epigrams XIV.113).

>Modern scholars struggled to explain this notion until myrrhina was identified as a fluorspar which the Romans imported from the eastern land of Parthia (see Propertius, Elegies IV.5). This mineral has a relatively loose crystalline structure, and chiselling it tended to cause splintering. So, as the wine vessel took shape, it would be gently heated and smeared with a pine resin. This would flow into cracked areas and glue those regions together. Warm wine gradually would dissolve some of the resin and take up some of its sweet aroma.