in wine there is truth

in wine there is truth

Sunday, March 18, 2007

History of Wine

Early history

Wine residue has been identified by Patrick McGovern's team at the University Museum, Pennsylvania, in ancient pottery jars. Records include ceramic jars from the Neolithic sites at Shulaveri, of present-day Georgia (about 6000 BC) [1], Hajji Firuz Tepe in the Zagros Mountains of present-day Iran (5400-5000 BC)[2],[3] and from Late Uruk (3500-3100 BC) occupation at the site of Uruk, in Mesopotamia [1]. The identifications are based on the identification of tartaric acid and tartrate salts using a form of infrared spectroscopy (FT-IR). These identifications are regarded with caution by some biochemists because of the risk of false positives, particularly where complex mixtures of organic materials, and degradation products, may be present. The identifications have not yet been replicated in other laboratories.

In his book Ancient Wine: The Search for the Origins of Viniculture (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003), McGovern argues that the domestication of the Eurasian wine grape and winemaking could have originated on the territory of modern Georgia and spread south from there.[4]

In Iran (Persia), mei (the Persian wine) has been a central theme of their poetry for more than a thousand years, although alcohol is strictly forbidden in Islam.
In Iran (Persia), mei (the Persian wine) has been a central theme of their poetry for more than a thousand years, although alcohol is strictly forbidden in Islam.

Little is actually known of the prehistory of wine. It is plausible that early foragers and farmers made alcoholic beverages from wild fruits, including wild grapes (Vitis silvestris). This would have become easier following the development of pottery vessels in the later Neolithic of the Near East, about 9000 years ago. However, wild grapes are small and sour, and relatively rare at archaeological sites. It is unlikely they could have been the basis of a wine industry.

Domesticated grapes were abundant in the Near East from the beginning of the Early Bronze Age, starting in 3200 BC. There is also increasingly abundant evidence for wine making in Sumer and Egypt in the third millennium BC. The ancient Chinese made wine from native wild "mountain grapes" like Vitis thunbergii [5] for a time, until they imported domesticated grape seeds from Central Asia in the second century BC. Grapes were, of course, also an important food. There is scant evidence for earlier domestication of grape, in the form of grape pips from Chalcolithic Tell Shuna in Jordan, but this evidence remains unpublished.

Exactly where wine was first made is still unclear. It could have been anywhere in the vast region, stretching from North Africa to Central/South Asia, where wild grapes grow. However, the first large-scale production of wine must have been in the region where grapes were first domesticated, Southern Caucasus and the Near East. Wild grapes grow in Georgia, northern Levant, coastal and southeastern Turkey, northern Iran or Armenia. None of these areas can, as yet, be definitively singled out, despite persistent suggestions that Georgia is the birthplace of wine[2].

Ancient Egypt and the Middle East

 A wine vessel from the 18th century BC
A wine vessel from the 18th century BC

In Egypt, wine played an important role in ancient ceremonial life. A thriving royal winemaking industry was established in the Nile Delta following the introduction of grape cultivation from the Levant to Egypt c. 3000 BC. The industry was most likely the result of trade between Egypt and Canaan during the Early Bronze Age, commencing from at least the Third Dynasty (26502575 BC), the beginning of the Old Kingdom period (26502152 BC). Winemaking scenes on tomb walls, and the offering lists that accompanied them, included wine that was definitely produced at the deltaic vineyards. By the end of the Old Kingdom, five wines, all probably produced in the Delta, constitute a canonical set of provisions, or fixed "menu," for the afterlife.

Wine in ancient Egypt was predominantly red. A recent discovery, however, has revealed the first ever evidence of white wine in ancient Egypt. Residue from five clay amphorae from Pharaoh Tutankhamun's tomb yielded traces of white wine. [6]

Outside Egypt, much of the ancient Middle East preferred beer as a daily drink rather than wine, a taste likely inherited from the Sumerians. However, wine was well-known, especially near the Mediterranean coast, and figures prominently in the ritual life of the Jewish people going back to the earliest known records of the faith; the Tanakh mentions it prominently in many locations as both a boon and a curse, and wine drunkenness serves as a major theme in a number of Bible stories.

Much superstition surrounded wine-drinking in early Egyptian times, largely due to its resemblence to blood. In Plutarch's Moralia he mentions that, prior to the reign of Psammetichus, the ancient Kings did not drink wine, "nor use it in libation as something dear to the gods, thinking it to be the blood of those who had once battled against the gods and from whom, when they had fallen and had become commingled with the earth, they believed vines to have sprung." This was considered to be the reason why drunkenness "drives men out of their senses and crazes them, inasmuch as they are then filled with the blood of their forbears."[7]

Ancient Greece

Much modern wine culture derives from the practices of the ancient Greeks; while the exact arrival of wine in Greek territory is unknown, it was known to both the Minoan and Mycenaean cultures. [8] Dionysos was the Greek god of wine and revelry, and wine was frequently referred to in the works of Homer and Aesop. In Homeric myths wine is usually served in "mixing bowls"; it was not traditionally drunk straight. It was thought to be referred to as "Juice of the Gods."

Many of the grapes grown in Greece are grown nowhere else, and are similar or identical to varieties grown in ancient times. In addition, the popular modern Greek wine, retsina, is believed to be a carryover from when wine jugs were lined with tree resin and imparted a distinct flavor to the wine.

Greek wine was widely known and exported throughout the Mediterranean basin, and amphorae with Greek styling and art have been found throughout the area.

Roman Empire

The Roman Empire had an immense impact on the development of viticulture and oenology. Wine was an integral part of the Roman diet and wine making became a precise business.

As the Roman Empire expanded, wine production in the provinces grew to the point where the provinces were competing with Roman wines. Virtually all of the major wine producing regions of Western Europe today were established by the Romans. But it was the region of Lusitania (Portugal) that was distinguished by the Romans for its properties, hence the name Lusitania comes from the name of the god Bacchus or Lyssa/Lusus.

Wine making technology improved considerably during the time of the Roman Empire. Many grape varieties and cultivation techniques were known. Barrels were developed for storing and shipping wine. Bottles were used for the first time and the early developments of an appellation system formed as certain regions gained reputations for fine wine.

When the Roman Empire fell around 500 AD, Europe went into a period known as the Dark Ages. This was a period of invasions and social turmoil. The only stable social structure was the Catholic Church. Through the Church, grape growing and wine making technology was preserved during this period.

Ancient China

Following Zhang Qian's exploration of the country's western region in the 2nd century BCE, high quality grapes were introduced into China and Chinese grape wine (called putao jiu in Chinese) was first produced.[3]

Medieval Europe

In medieval Europe wine was consumed by the church and the noble and merchant classes, ale being the drink of the general populace. Wine was necessary for the celebration of the Catholic Mass, and so assuring a supply was crucial. The Benedictine monks became one of the largest producers of wine in France and Germany, followed closely by the Cistercians. Other orders, such as the Carthusians, the Templars, and the Carmelites, are also notable both historically and in modern times as wine producers. The Benedictines owned vineyards in Champagne, (Dom Perignon was a Benedictine monk), Burgundy, and Bordeaux in France and in the Rheingau and Franconia in Germany; indeed, they were the first to plant Riesling grapes in Germany. Though they did not originate viticulture in these areas, they made it into an industry, producing enough wine to ship it all over Europe for secular use. In Portugal, a country with one of the oldest wine traditions, the first appellation system in the world was created.

A housewife of the merchant class or a servant in a noble household would have served wine at every meal, and had a selection of reds and whites alike. Home recipes for meads from this period are still in existence, along with recipes for spicing and masking flavors in wines, including the simple act of adding a small amount of honey to the wine. As wines were kept in barrels, they were not extensively aged, and therefore were drunk quite young. To offset the effects of heavy consumption of alcohol, wine was frequently watered down at a ratio of four or five parts water to one of wine.

Wine in the New World

Grapes and wheat were first brought to what is now Latin America by the first Spanish conquistadores to provide the necessities of the Catholic Holy Eucharist. Planted at Spanish missions, one variety came to be known as the Mission grapes and is still planted today in small amounts. Succeeding waves of immigrants imported French, Italian and German grapes, although wine from grapes native to the Americas is also produced (though often deemed an acquired taste, since the flavors can be very different).

Wine in the Americas is most closely associated with the United States (particularly the state of California), Argentina, and Chile, all of which produce a wide variety of wines from inexpensive jug wines to high-quality varietals and proprietary blends. While most of the wine production in the Americas is based on Old World varieties, the wine growing regions of the Americas often have "adopted" grapes that are particularly closely identified with them, such as California's Zinfandel (from Croatia), Argentina's Malbec, and Chile's Carmenère (both from France).

Until the latter half of the 20th century, American wine was generally looked upon as inferior to European product; it was not until the surprising American showing at the Paris Wine tasting of 1976 that New World wine began to gain respect in the lands of wine's origins.

Outside the Americas

For wine purposes, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and other countries without a wine tradition are also considered New World. Until quite late in the 20th century, the product of these countries was not well known outside their small export markets (Australia exported largely to the United Kingdom, New Zealand kept most of its wine internally, South Africa was closed off to much of the world market because of apartheid). However, with the increase in mechanization and scientific winemaking, these countries became known for high quality wine.


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