by Fred McMillin
for February 1, 1999


Feb. 1st—Happy New Year?


In ancient Rome, the start of the New Year was February First up until the Roman Calendar was replaced by the Julian Calendar in 46 B.C.

...e-mail from erudite reader Jim Pompilio, Clifton Park, New York, correcting our Jan. 1, 1998 WineDay.

The Rest of the Story

So tonight I'm going to toast the original Roman New Year...but with what wine? Should I spice it up a bit?

French enologist-archeologist Herve Durand has some suggestions; here are additives used in the Roman wines:

  • Roasted date pits for flavor
  • Concentrated sea water
  • Plaster to reduce bitterness
  • Saffron for color
  • Mushroom ashes to bleach red wine to white

Since I've just run out of mushroom ashes, I'm going to drink an unbleached red from a varietal whose ancestors grew in Tuscany when Emperor Numa Pompilius established the February 1st New Year. The envelope, please.

Today's Wine

Robert Pepi Winery  
1996 Two-Heart Canopy Sangiovese, California
Robert Pepi Winery, Napa Valley
Grape Sources—A major portion comes from vines Robert Pepi brought from Tuscany in 1983. The remainder come from some other northern California lean-and-mean hillside vineyards (low nourishment = intense flavors).
Rating—HIGHLY RECOMMENDED for medium-body red wine aficionados. At the Cal. State Fair not long ago the Pepi Sangiovese won Best Wine of the Napa Valley!
Two-Heart Canopy?—See Jan. 1, 1998 WineDay.
Contact—James Caudill, (707)525-6229.
Price—$17 range.

Credits: Durand information from N.Y. Times, 9/14/94.


How tastes change. About 60 A.D. Pliny the Elder criticized the Gauls for their revolting practice of drinking wine UNDILUTED.

About the Writer

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. In 1995, the Academy of Wine Communications honored Fred with one of only 22 Certificates of Commendation awarded to American wine writers.


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