Plinio il Vecchio


ENGLISH VERSION | Experimental Archeology and Enology, the salted wine of Kos

Plinius the Elder, in his Naturalis Historiae, talks about 185 varieties of wine which all differ in sensory perceptions: white, red, rose, still, sparkling, dry, sweet, aromatized. Even Hippocrates, the most famous medic of the ancient times, makes a list based on their qualities and on the effects they produce on the body. But… have you ever heard of salted wine?


Salted wine: what does it mean?

There are four main flavors which can determine the taste of a wine and they can be perceived by the taste buds on the tongue: sweet, sour, bitter and salted. By definition, a salted wine should give a feeling of sapidity that is higher than other taste qualities. Usually, alcohol, sourness and volatile substances tend to cover this flavor, which becomes noticeable only in the case of unusual sapidity values. Some wines, especially if farmed on soil exposed to salty winds, can have a natural, salted taste. However, during the winemaking process, in order to correct the taste, increase the wine conservation, or to make it more “noble”, ancient sources suggest adding the most disparate ingredients: from honey to flower petals, from seawater to minced oysters, from wood splinters to resin, even chalk, clay and tar.

The salted wine of Kos

Cato The Elder, in his Liber de agri cultura, which was written during the second quarter of the 2nd century B.C., is one of the first to describe the production process of one of the most famous salted wines of the antiquity. In fact, the island of Kos boasted an important wine production in the ancient times, so much that a part of the wine purchases for the roman legions came from the Dodecanese islands. This wine, like the one of Rhodes and Chian, was preserved in particular amphorae, and it was so precious that some forged copies, which were passed off as Kos wine, have been discovered.

In order to prepare the famous Greek wine of Kos, according to the recipe of Cato, it is necessary to draw offshore seawater in a day of calm sea, about two months before the harvest. After having decanted it a couple of times in clean jars and excluding the bottom deposits, only the ripest berries will be added. Three days later, the grapes are taken, pressed and fermented.

The second terrace of the Asclepius sanctuary on the island of Kos
Experimental Archeology and enology

In these years, there have been several attempts to produce the wines by following the descriptions of the sources. Starting from the stories of Plinius the Elder and using a winemaking technique that is not too different from the Kos one, the wine of Chian has been replicated at the Elba Island. In this case, though, the berries of a particular white grape variety, the Ansonica, are placed inside handmade pots and immersed at sea for a few days. The seawater works on the berries, eliminating the bloom, a waxy substance that covers them, accelerating the dehydration of the grapes which leads to a perfect ripening. This process has also been documented in a short movie, “Vinum Insulae”, produced by Cosmomedia.

The handmade pots which contain the grape berries