Italian Wines

With Religious History

By Sandra Crittenden
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Wine and Christianity have mingled together since the earliest of times, and the Easter season offers a good opportunity to explore some wines that have a religious story behind their creation. Religion largely discourages drunkenness, but religious scholars can find statements that view wine consumption both as sinful and as a gift that God has given to his followers to increase enjoyment of life on earth.

  Wine is first mentioned in Genesis, the first book of the Old Testament and the Hebrew Torah when Noah plants a vineyard, makes wine, and inadvertently ends up naked and inebriated. This is probably the first written warning of the dangers involved in the over consumption of alcohol. As the Old Testament story continues, however, wine is later noted to be a blessing that can “gladden the heart of man” in the book of Psalms.

  The Jewish ritual of the Seder Plate at Passover includes four cups of wine as part of the redemption ceremony, each with a different significance. One represents salvation from harsh labor when the plagues came to Egypt, one for salvation from servitude under Ramses, one for redemption with the parting of the Red Sea to prevent recapture, and the final cup to celebrate becoming a new nation at Sinai. There is also a fifth cup set aside for Elijah which is not consumed.

  In the New Testament, there are several positive mentions of wine. The first miracle that Jesus performs is to turn water into wine at a wedding in Cana. In the book of Timothy, Paul recommends that he should stop drinking only water and add a little wine to help with his stomach ailments.

  The most significant use of wine in this part of the Christian Bible is when Jesus uses it as a symbol of his blood at the Last Supper. It is still used at communion services in many churches today. 

Placeholder image In the Middle Ages, Benedictine and Cistercian monks cultivated vineyards throughout Europe to create wine for use for the Eucharist or Communion sacrament. Many of these vineyards are still in existence in modern times. The knowledge they gained and preserved in written form is still pertinent to vineyard sites, grape selection, and climate considerations.

  Charlemagne, the Holy Roman Emperor in 800 A.D., encouraged a higher standard of viticulture or winemaking. He preferred the screw press to the treading of grapes by foot, and he also preferred barrels instead of animal skins for storage.

  Monasteries received income from the sale of their additional wine which was not needed for sacramental purposes. This helped the Church to prosper. Wine was used medicinally as an anesthetic for pain and in many areas, it was safer to drink than water, so, moderate consumption was not frowned upon.

  This April, as families enjoy meals together, consider doing as it says in Ecclesiastes, “Go, eat your food with gladness, and drink your wine with a joyful heart, for God has already approved what you do.” 

Recommended Wines for April

Mastroberardino Lacryma Christi Bianco
The name translates to “the tears of Christ.” Legend says that Jesus' tears fell from heaven onto Mt. Vesuvius when it was discovered that Lucifer had stolen a piece of heaven, the Gulf of Naples, when he was cast out. These tears sparked the growth of the region’s densely planted grapevines on steep slopes of mineral rich soil.

This dry, fresh white has light floral and citrus notes with a mineral-laced finish. It is best served with seafood dishes and can be found on the Island at Spec’s for $22. 

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Mastroberardino Lacryma Christi Rosso

This is the red version which is made from Piedirosso grapes. It is dry and full-bodied with spicy red fruit aromas and flavors. This wine is a good accompaniment to hearty beef meals. Available online.


Pietro Est! Est!! Est!!! di Montefiascone

This fresh, crisp white wine with notes of citrus, apple, and almond skin is made from Trebbiano and Ugni Blanc grapes grown on volcanic soils in Lazio. The unique name comes from the story of a German bishop who was headed to Rome in the 12th century to meet the Pope before the German king was crowned as the new Holy Roman Emperor. The bishop was determined to make the most of his time, so he sent his manservant a day ahead of him to search for accommodations that also boasted quality wines.

To alert the bishop to which inns provided the best drink, his manservant would write the word “Est!” which means "It is!” on the door. The servant was so pleased with the wine from the village of Montefiascone that he wrote the words “Est! Est!! Est!!!” upon the inn’s door. When the bishop arrived, he too, found the wine to be extraordinary.

The wine from this region would bear the name Est! Est!! Est!!! di Montefiascone from that day forward. Later, the bishop would return to the area and lived there until he died. This wine is best served with simple salads or Mediterranean dishes. Available online. 

 Bellini Vin Santo

This Tuscan wine’s name translates to “holy wine.” Winemakers dry the grapes by hanging them up in bunches or by drying them on racks in warm attics. After 3-4 months of this process, right around Easter in the spring, the grapes have concentrated natural sugars and flavors.

The wine is pressed, fermented, and aged for a minimum of three years, creating a full-bodied, golden-hued wine with notes of honey and nuts. This wine is considered a dessert wine.

This rendition is lightly sweet, but the good acidity keeps it from being cloying. It is best served with biscotti for dipping or panettone cake. Available online.