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Ancient wines are having a moment in Italy. Here’s why.

It was a calm and balmy morning in September 2018 when winemaker Antonio Arrighi first plunged a basket of grapes into the Mediterranean Sea. His neighbors on the sun-drenched Italian island of Elba watched in disbelief. “Has Antonio gone crazy?”

Indeed, as the bunches sank beneath the water, where they would stay for five days, Arrighi felt a stroke of mad genius. He was resurrecting the process of creating marine wine—an Ancient Greek delicacy said to be favored by Julius Caesar.

The golden tipple’s connection to the Tuscan Archipelago runs deep. Remnants of Greek amphorae (terra-cotta wine jars) have been found on the seafloor not far from Arrighi’s vineyards. Merchants from the Greek island of Chios would often stop at mineral-rich Elba on their journey back from Marseille, France, where marine wine was a hot commodity, says Attilio Scienza, a viticulture professor at the University of Milan who collaborated with Arrighi.

This month the specialty beverage is returning to the market for the first time in more than 2,000 years as Arrighi winery releases 240 bottles of “Nesos” wine—marking yet another reason to visit Elba, beyond its 70-some beaches, Etruscan ruins, and Roman villas.

Arrighi is one of the many winemakers contributing to Italy’s renaissance of ancient viticultural techniques. There’s a growing interest here in recreating small batches of natural and sustainable wine from bygone eras. After all, a bottle with a story has always been valuable, and these are time machines for taste.

An immersive endeavor

Few libations have been shrouded in mystery quite like marine wines. Despite their popularity in Ancient Rome, as documented by historian Pliny the Elder, winemakers in Chios kept the method under lock and key. Their secret, it turns out, was submerging the grapes in saltwater, a process that naturally removes the waxy white surface bloom and allows the fruit to dry quickly in the sun. This preserves more aromas, creating a robust taste unlike anything else.

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