Wine is bottled sun; it is the highest expression of a territory, a changing climate and the rhythm of time. It is a drink that has been around humans for almost 7000 years and evolved throughout time to become what it is today. But, how did everything start?
The oldest known wine residues were found in Iran inside the excavations of a Neolithic village called Hajji Firuz Tepe, dating back to 3500 BC. The oldest winemaking facility with a wine press, fermentation vats and wine storage vessels were found in Armenia, dating back to 6000 BC. This last one is the oldest reliable evidence of wine production that we have until now.
Wine began to be considered as a drink of pleasure in the ancient Egypt (3000 BC). The Egyptians were the first civilization to cultivate vines for winemaking purposes and to engrave the wine vessels with the owner’s name, the year of harvest, the area where the grapes came from and the quality of the wine. It is believed that wine was first imported as a finished product from the Levant and after the Egyptians developed a taste for it vines where planted along the Nile Delta and they started producing their own wine.
It is believed that red wine was the most consumed style and white wine was seen as something rare and valued. Both styles were mixed with tree resins, herbs, fruits and spices.
In ancient Greece wine became a less elitist product and began to be consumed for gastronomic pleasure by the whole society. Wine was generally mixed with herbs and resin (which acted as preservatives) and was diluted with water before serving. Pine resin was used to seal the walls of the amphorae containing the wine, infusing it with a very distinct aroma. In modern Greece a white wine called “Retsina” is still fermented with pine resin, giving us the opportunity to savor a piece of history.
The Romans were great wine drinkers, an image especially popularized through movies and other modern media today. They planted vineyards in all the territories they conquered and were the first ones to use wooden barrels and glass containers to store their precious drink. Like the Greeks, they diluted their wines with water and liked to add substances to flavor and preserve it, but especially to clarify it. Romans clarified their wines by adding egg whites and gelatin, a technique that is still used in modern winemaking.
In the Middle Ages wine was controlled by religious orders. The use of wooden barrels became a common practice and during this period monks discovered that the best place for the preservation of wine was the lower part of the monasteries, officially creating the first wine cellars. Along with beer, wine was a source of income for the monasteries, consumed on a regular basis and seen as a healthy drink with nutritious properties.
We make an Olympic jump and land in the present. Today, when we uncork a bottle of wine we find ourselves in front of a drink with millennia of evolution, tradition and practice. The characteristics of today’s wines are very different from the ones they drank in ancient Egypt or during Roman feasts. In spite of this, there are certain factors that remain present throughout history: the earth where the vines grow, the sun that shines and ripens the grapes, the time needed to transform a sweet grape juice into an alcoholic beverage, and, what I considered to be the most important, the feeling of joy that wine has given to each civilization that included it as part of their life.