Falerno is a wine being made today in Italy, in the Falerna region of the province of Catanzaro in Calabria. It is sometimes referred to as “Falernum” for marketing purposes to emphasize Falerno’s “ties” with the Romans. The Falerno wines made today can be white or red. Both have a strong fruity flavour.
The belief is that the Falernian grapes being used for the wines were originally brought from Greece in the very early days of Rome (estimates range from 750 to 400 BC), and that they were the ones used by Romans for some of their most famous wines. The vines were almost destroyed in the last half of the 1800s by the insect phylloxera introduced from North America, which destroyed the roots of European grapes. Some of the Falernian vines reputedly survived in Caserta, Avellino and Benevento. The wine makers believe that, through research, they have identified this grape as being the exact type of grapes used by the Romans in making Falernian wines.
The variety of Falernian grape called Aglianico is used to make red wine; Falanghina grapes make the white wine.
The Aglianico grape is also grown in the region of Castel del Monte in Puglia, north of Calabria. Growers there also claim that the grape was brought from Greece.
The Romans classified three types of Falernian wine made in Falerna.
- Caucinian Falernian: from grapes grown on the upper slopes of Mount Falernus;
- Faustian Falernian: from grapes grown on central slopes;
- Falernian: from the lowest slopes
The Romans made a white and red version of the wine. The white was the more esteemed. It was a sweet, heavy, golden-coloured white wine that would be aged and could be kept for decades. While aging, it was allowed to turn amber. The taste would also have been affected by the storage amphora (urns), which were sealed with resin or pitch. This wine could fetch such good prices that the urns would have a metal label tied around their necks, stating the name of the wine and when it was bottled.
When very old, the wine would turn too bitter to drink straight up — not that the Romans would ever followed the barbarian practice of drinking any wine straight up. Instead of diluting Falernian with water, though, as they would other wines, they diluted it with a younger wine.
Pliny noted that a Falernian wine from 121 BC was served to Caligula (12 – 41 AD).
Literature & Lore
“O servant boy of the old Falernian wine, pour more bitter cups for me…” (Catullus, Carmen 27.)
Aglianco may be a corruption of “Ellencio”, Hellenic, pointing to the Greek origin of the grapes. Falanghina means “staked grape” — the Romans would stake grapes that they felt were good enough to merit it; others would be let to grow along the ground or up trees.