by Fred McMillin
He tied a pillow over his head with strips of linen, for "great sheets of flame" along with showers of ashes made the day like night. The man beneath the pillow was the naval commander of the region. As other ships fled the harbor, he ordered his light galley to sail toward the eruption, to examine it more closely. The mountain was Vesuvius and the commander was the author of the monumental (37-book) "Natural History," Galus Plinius Secundus, or Pliny the Elder. The trip was fatal for the author but the writing immortal. If you wish to toast one of the world's first wine writers, ask for a Trebbiano wine. (Pliny called it Trebulanum.) It's easy to find for today's Trebbiano is the most widely-grown wine grape in the world. In France it is commonly called Ugni Blanc, and much is converted to brandy.
But let me suggest a Trebbiano blend associated with a much happier outcome. Many centuries after the 79 A.D. eruption of Vesuvius, and many miles to the north, the German bishop Johannes de Fuger was realizing a lifelong ambition. He was traveling south for an audience with the Holy Father. His man Martin traveled a day ahead, and marked "Est" (this is it) on the wall of the inn with the best wine and food. Nearing Rome, he arrived at Montefiascone, only to find on a wall Est! Est!! Est!!!. The Trebbiano blend of that name was so great that the trip was terminated and Bishop Fuger lived out his life there. He even left funds to have a cask of the wine poured over his tomb annually. (Footnote: When I visited the tomb, alas, I found the practice has been discontinued.)
Est! Est!! Est!!! di Montefiascone
Importer: Opici Imports
For outlets call: Aimee Chabot, Phone (212) 682-3398
Character: Light, refreshing, dry
Food affinities: Before and during first course of seafood; light pasta dishes
Wineries—In Italy at the town of Montefiascone I enjoyed the EST! of the cooperative Cantina di Montefiascone. Other important names include Mazziotti and the outstanding Falesco.
Fred McMillin, a veteran wine writer, has taught wine history for 30 years on three continents. He currently teaches wine courses at San Francisco State and San Francisco City College. He also writes a monthly column, On Wine.
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