The Unknown Volcanic Wines of Pompeii
The ancient city of Pompeii is one of Italy’s leading attractions: more than four million people visit the site each year. But many travelers pass through on a quick day trip from Rome or Naples, usually en route to the Amalfi Coast. What they don’t realize is that Pompeii is much more than its archeological ruins. The city is home to innovative wineries and picturesque vineyards that thrive in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius.
Vesuvius, of course, is already well known for its Lacryma Christi (“Tears of Christ”) wines, which have been produced for thousands of years. Made with local varieties—Caprettone and Falanghina white grapes and Piedirosso, Sciascinoso and Aglianico red grapes—it was one of the first Italian wines to be exported to the U.S. in the 1900s, along with Chianti, and became a DOC in 1983.
A trademark of the region, Lacryma Christi continues to be produced by Campania’s leading wineries and has seen a modern resurgence. Like elsewhere in Italy, Pompeii enjoyed a long history of viticulture as evidenced in historical texts, frescoes and dolias (amphorae) discovered throughout the ancient city. Wine was a prominent fixture at banquets, and wealthy Pompeiians grew their own vines in the city’s suburban gardens.
Today, wine lovers can reimagine these ancient vineyards thanks to a pioneering project conceived by the Archaeological Superintendent of Pompeii and Mastroberardino, one of Campania’s most eminent wineries.
When Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD, it buried the city of Pompeii under 10 feet of solid ash, preserving its homes, people, and vineyards. This allowed Mastroberardino’s vintners to scour the ancient archeological site for evidence of its ancient grapes and even create casts of the vine roots to study the pattern of the 2,000-year-old plants.
Mastroberardino re-planted Campania’s native red grapes in their original plots and produced the first vintage of its coveted Villa dei Misteri wine in 2001. Ruby red in color with hints of vanilla, cinnamon, and plum, it pays homage to the frescoes discovered inside one of Pompeii’s most famous villas. Originally gifted to foreign dignitaries who visited Italy, it continues to be produced in a limited quantity and can be purchased at the winery in Atripalda or through online retailers for around $110 a bottle.
Pompeii’s vineyards lie within the city’s ancient gated homes to protect the vines, but visitors can contact Mastroberardino to arrange a tour of the archeological site with a trained enologist.
Bosco de’ Medici Winery
Another winery in the modern city of Pompeii is Bosco de’ Medici, a family-run enterprise that is quickly making a name for itself. It’s also home to a resort with a high-end restaurant, horseback-riding school, and petting zoo, making it a great base for a relaxing visit and for families with children.
Here, you can drink and dine like the ancient Romans under a beautiful pergola. The “Antica Pompeii” menu features recipes inspired by the ancient city and includes a tasting of four wines paired alongside dishes such as Gladiator Soup with Spelt, Fava Beans and Garum, and Pork Cooked Under Ashes with Red Wine and Honey ($50).
In just two years since opening the winery, Bosco de’ Medici’s Pompeii Bianco 2018 was given Gambero Rosso’s prestigious Tre Bicchieri award for 2020. The winery is also experimenting with wines aged in amphorae as an ode to ancient Pompeii.
Its Dressel 19.2 label, named after a German archeologist who studied ancient amphorae in Pompeii, ferments in terracotta amphorae for a month before aging in steel vats. Produced with Caprettone grapes, the amber-colored wine has a nice acidity and sweet honey notes.
Cantina del Vesuvio
Located at the foothills of Mount Vesuvius, Cantina del Vesuvio is a historic estate that dates back to 1930. It’s well worth a visit for its impressive views of the volcano and enticing wine-tasting lunches. The tour begins with a walk through the vineyards to admire the unique “Pergola Vesuviana,” an ancient method of viticulture that creates pergolas to protect the grapes from sun exposure, rain and wind.
After a quick stop in the cantina, you’ll enjoy local dishes on the patio with sweeping views of the coastline. You can see the Sorrentine peninsula and make out the island of Capri in the distance. The lunch features antipasti like bruschetta, cheeses and cold cuts followed by a hearty bowl of spaghetti made with Vesuvius’s famous Piennolo tomatoes—all accompanied by Cantina del Vesuvius’s organic wines.
The sparkling Spumante Rosé made with Aglianico grapes is a standout, as are the black label bottles of Lacryma Christi wine.