Just the name -- Terra Mia's Lacryma Christi di Vesuvio Bianco -- is enough to intrigue a curious wine drinker enough to investigate what's in the bottle. So begins today's journey into a truly unique white wine from the Italian province of Campania.
According to archaeologists who analyzed residue left on ancient casks, Lacryma Christi comes closest to matching the version of wine drunk by the ancient Romans who lived around the still active volcano Mt. Vesuvius, which overlooks the Bay of Naples.
Lacryma Christi, which means the "tears of Christ," was a very prized wine in the Middle Ages. It still lives up to its reputation today, although few non-Italians know about it.
Centuries ago, the Romans exported it throughout the Mediterranean, but most of it stayed at home for festive occasions. By the 16th century, the wines of the Vesuvio area were so renowned that Sante Lancerio, the pope's cellar master, promoted their power and quality.
As readers of this column know, it's the vineyards and grapes that make the wine. And Mt. Vesuvius provides one of the most unique terroirs in all the world. Vineyards are planted on the volcano's slopes and foothills, which ring Mt. Vesuvius for a total of 90 miles. From afar, this band of green vines creates almost a mystical landscape against the dark, volcanic soils of ash, lava, lapilli, pumice, tuff and other pyroclastic material.
The volcanic soils, which sit atop limestone, clay and other terrain, supply the vine with rich nutrients and minerals. They've also helped spare the Vesuvio appellation from the full effects of phylloxera, a vine-killing disease that has ravaged wine-growing regions throughout the world. Thus, the vines here are decades old -- some more than a century -- and they yield precious, high-quality grapes.
Lacryma Christi Bianco is a blend of native grapes that have been around for a long, long time: Falanghina, Verdeca, Greco and Coda di Volpe Bianca. While each grape lends a distinct trait to the mixture, Coda di Volpa Bianca is the primary grape and star. It is exclusive to Campania, where winemakers grow mainly indigenous grapes. The name Coda Di Volpe means "white foxtail," a reference to the shape of its grape cluster, which looks similar to the tail of a fox. Coda Di Volpe features moderate acidity, golden colors, and ripe pear and exotic fruit flavors with a touch of spice.
Lacryma Christi is still a secret in this county, thus it isn't regularly found on store shelves. I found Terra Mia's Lacryma Christi selling in New Hampshire wine outlets for $12.49 a bottle. The Wine ConneXtion in North Andover, Andover Classic Wines in the Shawsheen Plaza and Vino Italiano in Waltham also carry the wine.
Terra Mia's Lacryma Christi Bianco is a beautiful specimen, producing all the unique elements you'd expect to find in a bottle purchased along the Sorrento and Amalfi coasts. It sits in the glass with a rich golden hue, has a weighty, full-bodied mouthfeel, and delivers peach, apricot, Mediterranean herbal brush and saline nuances. The finish is dry and refreshing.
If you're looking to get off the Chardonnay kick for something different and exciting, Lacryma Christi Bianco is a good alternative.
By the way, if you serve it at a party you can impress the guests with this story as to how the wine got its name.
According to my Italian Wine Scholar study book, there are many legends and mysteries surrounding the history of Lacryma Christi. Locals tell the most famous: "A piece of heaven fell into the Gulf of Napoli when Lucifer was banished. The rogue angel had the gall to take a piece of paradise with him! Christ, saddened by the loss of such a good angel and of that detached piece of heaven, wept. Where his tears fell, vines sprung forth. The wine that was made from those vines was called 'Lacryma Christi.'"
OK, there you have it. A wonderful new wine to discover with a great story to tell. Salute!