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Domain Dispute Volume 53 Number 4, July/August 2000
by Angela M.H. Schuster

Ancient Romans were the first makers of "bubbly," not the French, says viticulturist Mario Fregoni of Catholic University in Piacenza. According to Fregoni, the ancient authors Virgil, Lucan, and Propertius describe in detail how the Romans fermented grapes twice to produce a fizz, the starting point for making champagne, 2,000 years ago. Champagne, he argues, was simply not invented by Dom Perignon, a seventeenth-century monk, as the French would have you believe.

Scholars have known that sparkling wine was enjoyed in ancient Rome; Lucan, writing in the first-century A.D., tells of it being served by Julius Caesar at a banquet in honor of Cleopatra. During such festive occasions, sparkling wines were not diluted as was the custom with ordinary wine. Until now, however, it was assumed that the wine's effervescence was produced by natural fermentation, perhaps as a result of poor storage.

"Lucan," says Fregoni, "described how winemakers in the region of Falernum, produced a sweet, sparkling wine by adding must pressed from withered Ethiopian grapes." The wine was then sealed in terra-cotta amphoras and stored underground, often close to streams of cold water. A similar wine was later produced in Provence when the area was under Roman rule. Roman sparkling wine was somewhat different from that made today, with a higher alcoholic content and lower acidity.

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© 2000 by the Archaeological Institute of America
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