Rivers of wine: a dream that comes true

It’s an image beloved of the sots and the dipsos, a story of being able to drink unlimited quantities of wine to your heart’s content. It’s a way of consuming wine that runs counter to the ethos of responsible drinking that we embrace and encourage. So why is it that the idea of wine gushing from a fountain still bewitches our collective imagination?

We can go back to the myths of abundance, to Boccaccio’s imaginary town of Bengodi or Collodi’s creation, the town of Balocchi. Italy has a tradition of Cuccagna, mountains of food and drink that were built to assuage people’s endemic hunger. We might also think of Bacchic festivals, where anything goes, where morals are put on hold, where noses and cheeks turn red, and where everything is an endless celebration. Reality is debarred, to the indulgence of all the human lusts.

Yet those wine festivals (or sagre), where the sweet grapey nectar erupts in place of water, evoke a powerful response in us, even though in our heart of hearts we know it to be a colossal waste. The Sagra del Vino in Marino is an event that started at the beginning of the century, retrospectively celebrating the battle of Lepanto in 1571, when a ramshackle, fractious Holy Alliance overcame the Turkish fleet. The festival’s success has increased year on year, to the point that there is no longer enough of the coveted fountain to go round. In pre-pandemic editions, 70,000 visitors would turn up, all wanting to fill their bellies and bottles: just securing a glass was a pretty hellish battle. It was at one recent sagra that Marino, a pleasant town in the Roman hills, really cemented its fame, when an error in the local plumbing briefly caused the taps to run with wine. The problem was soon set right. With wine like this, it’s best not to ask how good it is or where it comes from.

As for other wine fountains, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is on tap at Villa Caldari, a hamlet of Ortona in the province of Chieti. At Carosino, in the province of Taranto, it’s Primitivo that spurts forth; while at San Floriano del Colle, in Friuli Venezia Giulia, it’s Friulano!