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500th anniversary of Andrea Bacci, author of the first Italian wine history guide

In “De naturali vinorum historia”, the scholar from the Marche examines every aspect linked to wine production and consumption

“De naturali vinorum historia” by Andrea Bacci is the first Italian wine history guide. It is a monumental work, in seven volumes, which explores every aspect related to wine production and consumption. It was written by one of the most important academics of the Renaissance, Andrea Bacci, philosopher, doctor and writer. Bacci was a neoclassicist, i.e.; linked to the cultural movement of classical Latin authors, such as Pliny the Elder and Columella, of whom he was a profound expert, as well considering the contemporary scientific works of Girolamo Mercuriale, Sante Lancerio and Cristofaro di Messimburgo, with whom he conversed and discussed.
However, in his encyclopedic work, Bacci gives more importance to the territories than to the vines, or rather to the “terroir”, especially to the Marche and Piceno, his homeland, Sant'Elpidio a Mare (1524, which, at the time, was a Papal State). He was a precursor, author of the first Italian enography, and the first classification of the top wine territories in Italy and in Europe. His work, written in Latin and dedicated to his powerful protector, Cardinal Ascanio Colonna, dates back to 1596, when it was first published in Rome.
The occasion to honor him is the 500th anniversary of his birth, celebrated recently in Sant’Elpidio a Mare, at the conference, “From Andrea Bacci to innovation in viticulture today”. The conference was held at Villa Il Castellano, promoted by Assoenologi, including the participation of and speeches by, among others Giuliano D'Ignazi, president of Assoenologi Marche, Gianni Pasquale, president of Assoenologi Abruzzo and Molise, Alessio Pignotti, mayor of Sant’Elpidio a Mare, Angelo Serri, director of Tipicità, professors Vania Lanari ( viticulture), Gianfranco Romanazzi (protection of the vine from diseases, and Maurizio Ciani (oenological microbiology), Deborah Pacetti, oenologist, Alberto Mazzoni, Director of IMT-Istituto Marchigiano Tutela Vini, and Alessandro Regoli, Director of WineNews. The concluding speech was given by Riccardo Cotarella, president of Assoenologi.
Reflecting on the importance of Bacci’s work, WineNews, together with Professor Attilio Scienza, one of the leading viticulture experts in the world, emphasized that, “history gives us indications to read the future, so we started looking for them in the thousands of pages he wrote”. Bacci’s work was also a guide to wine consumption that treated even today’s highly topical issues, such as the relationship between wine and health and pairing between wine and cuisine. “What strikes me about Andrea Bacci”, director Alessandro Regoli said in his speech, “is the fact that, as a pontifical archiater, or the Pope’s doctor, wrote this monumental work to provide Pope Sixtus V with the most suitable wines for his diet. And, as was done in the Renaissance, he considered the relationship between wine consumption and effects on health, nutritional value of wine, for the healthy and the sick, and the consequences of drunkenness. Bacci dedicated the entire third book to these aspects. In Bacci’s time, consuming wine was an elite drink, not daily, and being a doctor, Bacci considered wine not only as food, but also its nutraceutical properties, for which he recommended one wine rather than another (for instance, for digestion or urination) to the Pope. Pairing wine to food was a dietary and nutritional issue. The author dedicated another entire book to this topic, indicating especially the ways of serving it”. In the first book, he refers to what the ancients said about how wine was once made, and how wine is made now, the varieties of grapes and wines, including passito wine, cooked wine and “sapa”. In the second book he considers characteristics and differences depending on cultivating methods, quality of the soil and the climate. The third book he examines the capacity and effects of wine in nutrition and medicine. The fourth book recounts in detail the banquets of the ancients. The fifth book is a detailed review of the all the Italian wines, province by province. Finally, the sixth and seventh books are dedicated to the wines of Europe.
Andrea Bacci is considered a contemporary scholar who was ahead of his time. He inspired all the authors of the most important works on wine in the following centuries, such as Sante Lancerio, Pope Paul III’s bottler, Giovanni Dalmasso and Arturo Marescalchi’s “History of the vine and wine in Italy”, and so many others, such as Senator Paolo Desana, “father” of the Italian DOC, promoter of the bill 930/1963 that established them. Mario Soldati and Luigi Veronelli, the masters of wine and food journalism today, whose “landscape tastings” have made the general public understand as well as pushing producers to believe that the true added value of wines are the territories.
In this moment, wine has become a drink that is disconnected from food, while other drinks are preferred and wine is consumed only on special occasions. However, the people who have made the history of Italian wine important are sending a message which relaunches wine consumption, especially important among young people, who have been moving away from drinking wine, are the most concerned about health aspects and are no longer used to drinking with meals, because they no longer have the food culture they once had.
“This is normal, and we shouldn’t go back to the past, but rather draw inspiration from the past for the future”, director Alessandro Regoli said, “and I see that today’s young people are still eager, for instance, to get to know and get in touch with the places where wine is produced, the history, the culture, nature and the communities, which are the same ones Andrea Bacci classified more than five centuries ago, after having visited them”.
WineNews stated that communication, especially about wine, and especially depending on who we are dealing with, must use more current and contemporary language, methods and tools. They can be serious but must also be fun, friendly, interesting, and not exclusive. Communicators and experts must go beyond the classic tastings - or Master classes, if you prefer - where only the organoleptic characteristics of a wine are talked about, with words that sometimes range from “extravagant to pyrotechnic”. “They must, instead, tell more in depth about the territories and their beauty, not just limited to what’s inside the glass and/or bottle. Wine is the “medium” through which one tells about the territories, history, culture and life styles. This is the only possible way to “convert” to moderate and conscious consumption, which comes from the common sense one must have in drinking and eating, and in every other aspect of life. But we must also spread the word about the beauty of wine, its quality, “synesthesia”, or the pleasure of drinking wine paired to an excellent dish in a special place, like the scholars of the past did. In other words, we cannot talk about food and cooking, as if it were always the “last supper”, or about wine as if it were always the last “divine” cup”.
Finally, considering the fact whether there is a real risk that wine could disappear from the table, in the name of a too extreme health-consciousness, and whether consuming this drink that has accompanied man for millennia, is at risk, we must mention other great authors of letters past. As has been said, “common sense should help us understand, without unnecessary explanations, the meaning of moderation at the table, as in every other aspect of life”. Bacci said this as a doctor, but we also can quote the philosopher and doctor, Paracelsus, who said “everything is poison: nothing exists that is not poisonous. Only the dosage ensures that the poison does not take effect”. Or, further, the words of Saint Augustine, “perfect abstinence is easier than perfect moderation”.

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