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by Fred McMillin
Wines, Ides and Julius Caeser
Since today is the ides of March, we speak of...Wines, Ides and Julius Caeser.
Prologue by today's guest author, William Shakespeare
CAESAR—"Who is it in the press that calls on me? I hear a tongue, shriller than all the music."
SOOTHSAYER—"Beware the ides of March."
CAESAR—"What man is that?"
BRUTUS—"A soothsayer bids you beware the ides of March."
CAESAR—"He is a dreamer; let us leave him."
[Time passes. Today Caesar is walking toward the Capitol. The soothsayer shows up.]
CAESAR—"The ides of March are come."
SOOTHSAYER—"Ay, Caesar; but not gone."
[Later, in the Capitol...]
CASCA—"Speak, hands, for me!"...and stabs Caesar in the neck, and by others, and last, by Brutus.
CAESAR—"Et tu, Brute? Then fall, Caesar!"...[and dies.]
Today Is the Ides of March
Ides is singular. In Roman times every month had an ides, either the 13th or the 15th. In March it was the 15th. Caesar died on March 15, 44 B.C.
Today's Wines—The Caesar Connection
My S.F. State University class tasted a number of wines from Italy. The top four are all descendants of wines that existed when the soothsayer had his say. Here they are. Incidentally, one of our best sources of information about wine grapes at Caesar's time is Pliny the Elder, who was born only 70 years after the assassination. (Christ was 25 years old when Pliny was born.)
The Romans found that letting red grapes partly dry before converting them to wine could produce a wine of exceptional intensity. Today we call it Amarone (ah-mah-row-neh), and the class gave this one a rating of EXCEPTIONAL.
1995 Amarone Classico della Valpolicella
The grapes for this wine grow on the slopes of Mt. Vesuvius. An example is the Greco di Tufo, which the Greeks brought to Italy long before Caesar's time. Here's the white version. Buy the latest vintage you can get.
Lacryma Christi Del Vesuvio (tears of Christ)
Etruscans from the Middle East had established winemaking from the precursor of the Sangiovese grape some five centuries before Caesar's time. Today we know the wine as Chianti, and the class liked this one.
1996 Chianti Classico Riserva (pictured)
The First Wine Grapes
Wine historians believe man's first wine was made from a Muscat grape. Muscat came to Italy from Greece. Pliny called it UVA APIANA, the "grape of the bees." Here's an outstanding one; the class voted it Best Wine of the Course.
Moscato di Pantelleria (dessert wine)
Back to Caesar. When conquering Gaul (France), he found several tribes that forbid the consumption of wine. The reason? The leaders feared it would reduce their men's will to fight. Apparently they didn't notice that wine didn't seem to cause the Roman legions any problem!
This page created March 2001