Thursday, March 25, 2010


This Saturday The Museum of Metropolitan Art unveiled an important addition to its Ancient Roman Collection.
A Roman era wine jar, measuring 6” by 20”, with a slight crack along the rim, was unearthed in December 2009. What set this particular artifact apart from the numerous other wine vessels, cups, jugs, flasks and buckets that have been found, was the abundance of wine found in the jar. It was nearly full, with an exquisite decorative porcelain cork (which naturally had to be destroyed in order to access the wine). Archaeologists the world over were astonished and delighted at this unique find. “I’ve personally found over 275, maybe even 300 different Roman-Era wine related things in the sand and whatnot", said Professor Ridley Lengham, “But I have never found any wine in anything. This is a historic day”. The tasting was to held in the Egyptian Annex of the Museum. Editor Robert Neenan was invited, and I too was thrilled to RSVP.

Figure 1:
The crippling effects of a day-long roman wine draught (circa 60 A.D.)

Figure 2
2 days, 40 jugs later, the roman is rehydrated and looking great

To date, no one has ever tasted Roman-Era wine, and hopes were high. The ambiance was legitimately Roman, with fake grapes draped on the Sphinxes and a very fine selection of french cheese. Romans had an abundance of fruit at all times, most definitely melon balls. Ornate plastic cups were lined meticulously on Tutankahmen's tomb, and excitement loomed in the air. I seated myself on the Sphinx of Amenhotep the Third, and I tried not to look to eager. I ate some brie and crackers and talked to Professor Lengham who said “Romans drank a lot of wine, this is something we all know. But what did it taste like? To quote Pliny the Elder ‘Wine should be not only drunk from sun up to sun down, but bathed in and slept in as well.” He also added, "Wine was invented by the Romans for orgies...and orgies are not too much fun if no one wants to do it with you", a famous observation by Dr. Steve Brule.

Roman baby 50 A.D.

Roman baby (Present day)

Dr. Peter Gardner was the first to step up, and after a short speech about Ovid, Seneca, Plutarch, and some other ancient folks, he began to pour shots. The appearance of the wine, naturally, was different than our modern day spirit. As I swirled it around the cup the wine stuck to the sides in a sludgy, Ancient Roman way. The texture was that of molasses, and the aroma was rich and pungent unlike anything my nose has ever known. My colleague Robert Neenan declared it to be “barbaric yet sophisticated, like the Romans themselves”. I agreed. I stuck my nose in the cup and inhaled deeply because everyone else was doing it. Unable to handle the smell any longer, I decided to chug the thing and experience the experience of a lifetime.*

* Until I taste this

My Review
The “Vomitorium” was invented by the Romans as a place to rid themselves of excess of food and drink, so it was quite fitting that many of us in the room embraced this tradition wholeheartedly. And what you might ask, did this long sought-after elixir taste of? It is very difficult to describe a fine wine, and doubly so when said wine is thousands of years old. Typical descriptions are “light-bodied” “tannic”, “fleshy”, “supple”, “hedonistic”. Flavors implicated are usually “oak”, “floral”, “cedar”, black currant”, “licorice” and so on. Words that came to me when ingesting my little cup of history were “farty”, “grainy”, and “Fecal-tastic”. In other words, it was a revelation.

The top note had a lush rancidity that hit my palette and is there even now, 5 days later. “Unctuous urine soaked rag pressed to my face while gargling diarrhea” is how Dr. Gardner described it, when we met soon after in the E.R. of Lenox Hill Hospital. “Dusty liquid manure, with a hint of decayed mouse stuck in a wall”, was another canny observation. As we were administered charcoal and our stomachs pumped, I felt like screaming “No! Keep it IN me!”, because I felt such kinship with ancient Roman culture at that point, not because I was hallucinating.

Photo of me

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With thanks to Alyssa Lou, without whom I would have missed the perfect opportunity to mention my husband Steve Brule.

1 comment:

  1. the romans were basically gwar with less gutsy fashion sense.