Simon de Brion, elected Pope in 1281 (Martino IV), is put in the Purgatorio by Dante Alighieri in his Divina Commedia because of his gluttony. The Pope, of French origin, chose Montefiascone as his preferred dwelling due to the presence of eels and wine. He was used to eat a great quantity of these snake-like fish, so many that he died for an indigestion, as mentioned by the historical reporters in 1300. Five centuries later, Nicolo Tommaseo reports an inscription which apparently was on this Pope’s grave: “Eels are happy because hereunder is placed the man who was used to skin them”.
A legend says that the first who pushed this Pope to this abuse were the inhabitants of Marta, a small village on Bolsena Lake. They proposed him to taste these long fish who were captured in the nearby “Cannara”, a narrow point of the river Marta where eels were obliged to pass through and captured.
At the beginning the Pope was a little against these offers: the animals were too similar to snakes , which at that time were considered as sign of sin. But the local inhabitants ate them so eagerly, barbecued on site and with very little oil and a laurel leaf, accompanied by big glasses of local red wine. The Pope, at last, fell into temptation. That “poor” wine, which people called “vernaccia” as usually done to identify the most common wine of the area, was produced by local grapes of Cannaiolo, and named Cannaiola after that.
Today the picture of the Pope and his name are included in the label of “Cannaiola di Marta” Colli Etruschi Viterbesi Doc, belonging to Antonio Castelli, owner of the Azienda Agricola San Savino, who went on by trials and errors to reproduce the Cannaiola.
These grapes have roots deepening into the ancient times and for this reason the origin of the name is still confused and unsure. The meaning of the name might refer to the fact that these grapes were eaten also by dogs (“cani” in Italian). Others think the name goes back to latin: “dies caniculares”, the hottest days when the grapes change in color. The most realistic reason might go back to the fact that grapes were bound to reeds and barrels, quite abundant in this area of the region.
Also the real origin of the grapes is a mystery. People think that it was brought to the Bolsena area by one of the many monks who, during the Middle Age, reached the Latium region and the area of Viterbo, for many years residence of the Pope.
Antonio Castelli, pioneer of the Cannaiola, is in his sixties, always happy and polite, very busy in trying to take the real original wine to this part of the land. He has decided to dedicate part of his land to the experiment and in this hectar or so he planted the grapes and waited for the results, which arrived soon.
The wine is mainly for the local market, and the restaurants of Marta include it in their offer. “I started n 1996” says Castelli. “I have been experimenting for a long time before getting the right wine both in color and taste and smell. I use the modern technology coupled with the memories of 80 years old men who still remembered the real taste of the wine of those days. It was a hard and long task but finally I reached the goal. I had to face many problems, last but not least the changes in climate. Winters are not as cold and summers are not that hot anymore. Ages ago, the weather was more normal and results were steady”.
This red wine is slightly sweet and can be considered as a dessert wine but it can be used also for the “Coregone” (a fish typical from this lake) and “ricotta” and honey with excellent results.
Extract from “Il Vino amato da Papa Martino” (“Il mio vino” Febbraio 2007)