Vatican City consumes more wine per capita than anywhere else in the world—and its number one citizen is no slouch.
The Pope’s paternal grandfather was a winemaker near Asti in Piedmont, Italy, and as a child he grew up drinking bottles shipped to Argentina from the family vineyard. As the leader of the worldwide Catholic Church, he loves a good wine metaphor (he compares a heart that isn’t luminous to bad wine, while grandparents are likened to a fine vintage) and extolls its celebratory virtues (“Imagine drinking tea at the end of a celebration. No, it’s not good! There is no party without wine!”).
The meek may inherit the earth but Pope Francis preaches that “The finest of wines will come for every person who stakes everything on love.”
He’s not talking about altar wines used in the celebration of the Eucharist “There’s very little sacramental wine that’s good,” according to the Rev. E. Frank Henriques, an Episcopal priest who is the author of The Signet Encyclopedia of Wine, but there’s no reason it can’t be. Roman Catholic canon law governs the making of sacramental wine, and pretty much the only requirements are that it be unadulterated and naturally fermented from pure, fresh grapes. It can be red or white, dry or sweet, and even fortified. Basically any naturally produced wine fits the bill, but most churches rely on a handful of bulk winemakers who label their product for ceremonial use after its purity has been formally pronounced by a bishop of the vineyard’s diocese.
Pope Francis is known to take pleasure in off-the-altar wines. Earlier this year a Vatican gathering of wine producers, oenologists, wine journalists, sommeliers, and representatives of Italy’s gourmet associations awarded him a diploma as an honorary sommelier, honoring his elevation of wine “not just in relation to its Christian symbolism but also to its hedonistic aspect.” And he so thoroughly enjoyed his namesake Cabernet FRANCis, a gift from Napa Valley’s Trinitas Cellars, that his cardinals had to relinquish their own gift bottles to beef up the Pope’s supply of the limited commemorative bottling.
Wines of the Papal visit
While in Washington, Pope Francis will be served a 1986 Harbor Mission Del Sol made from California Mission grapes that were originally planted in the Sierra foothills by Franciscan friars. America’s oldest (143 years) sacramental winery, upstate New York’s O-Neh-Da Vineyard, is supplying wines for the New York leg. So far there’s no word yet on vintages or varietals to be served when the Pope lands in Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families, but there will be no fewer than 10 specially brewed beer (some made with holy water) to greet the pontiff, Philly style.