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by Fred McMillin
for July 18, 1997

Pliny's Picks

Prologue: Two thousand years ago Pliny wrote about a grape whose clusters resembled a fox's tail, the Alopecis.

The Rest of the Story: Imagine the excitement in my wine history course if I could serve a Pliny foxtail wine. The Latin word for an animal's tail is "cauda" and for fox is "vulpes." Would you believe, the Coda di Volpe vine has survived, and Antonio Mastroberardino makes a white wine from it. If you want to locate a bottle in the USA, phone Marsha Palanci at (212)605-0370 and ask for the Lacryma Christi Bianco, 100% Coda di Volpe, $15.

That's not all. British critic Hugh Johnson calls Antonio a true viticultural archeologist. He makes wines from other ancient Roman vines. He has revived their Apianum, known today as the Fiano. It is grown 20 miles inland from Mt. Vesuvius, among hazelnut plantations near the city of Avellino. The mineral soil and hazelnut orchards produce a white of rare depth...Radici, Fiano di Avellino, 100% Fiano. $26. (Radici means "roots.") Marsha can get this one for you, too.

Just the Facts

Name Mastroberardino Winery
Founding The family began producing wine five centuries ago. The winery was formally established in 1878.
Location Near Mt. Vesuvius, 100 miles south of Rome. This was Pliny country. In fact, in 79 A.D. Pliny was in command of the Bay of Naples fleet. He was 56 years old when the volcano erupted on August 23. He tied a pillow on his head as he studied the phenomenon, but then was killed by poisonous gases.
Winemaker Antonio Mastroberardino
Vineyardist Paolo Mastroberardino, one of Antonio's sons
Modernization   The severe earthquakes of 1980 destroyed much of the winery, which was rebuilt with the latest equipment, including refrigerated stainless steel tanks for the above white wines
Capacity About 80,000 cases a year.
Contact Marsha Palanci, (212)605-0370

Postscript: About that wine name "Lacryma Christi": It means "tears of Christ." Legend says that when Christ (Christ was 25 years old when Pliny was born) witnessed the lifestyle of Naples, he wept and gave root to the vines. Rival vintners are said to have promoted a different story...that the tears flowed because the wines were so poor.

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 and is Northern California Editor for American Wine on the Web. 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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