On Wednesday, Pope Francis denied rumors that he is a teetotaler, drinking only mate tea, an herbal infusion typical of certain Latin American countries. “I’m not a teetotaler,” he said. “I drink a little wine from Italy and other countries from around the world. But just a little.” The Pope’s grandfather, in fact, was winemaker of Piedmontese origin.
After yesterday’s General Audience, the Pope received Franco Maria Ricci, president of the Italian Sommelier Association, who led a delegation of some 180 wine producers, vintners, sommeliers, and wine writers.
“When he uttered that phrase,” Ricci said with a smile, “I was relieved.”
“The idea of asking for an audience with the Pope came to me when I heard that he made so many references to good wine in his preaching,” said Ricci. “For us producers, sommeliers and vintners, it is an important honor and an encouragement for our work.”
In fact, sifting through the Pope’s preaching, it is not hard to find positive oenological references. Last February he made news saying that “without wine, there’s no party,” referring to the wedding feast at Cana. “Imagine finishing up the feast drinking only tea!” he said.
“The older a wine is, the better it gets,” the Pope has also said, referring to Jesus’ expression “no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for they say, ‘The old is better.’” In all, there are some 224 references to wine in the Bible.
Francis’ predecessor, too, Pope Benedict XVI, made frequent references to wine, and in his very first public greeting after his election to the papacy, defined himself “a simple and humble laborer in the vineyard of the Lord.”
Wednesday’s wine delegation bestowed on Pope Francis a diploma as honorary sommelier, along with a Tastevin (a sommelier’s silver tasting bowl) and a wooden box with two bottles of red wine.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome.