14th
Sep
2015

Posted in

Tea and coffee are widely popular today and most of us need at least a mug or two to get us through the day, but in days of yore, before their discovery and widespread use, people relied on very different drinks. At the end of last week, we had a look at the origins of beer in early civilization, and its important- if slightly ironic by modern standards- role in keeping people healthy. 

The Origin of Wine

Today we are going to look at another drink that probably pre-dates even civilization- wine. Of course, the very earliest sorts of wine weren't what we imagine when we turn our minds to it. A sort of faux-wine can occur naturally with fruit. As it ripens, the sugars interact with airborne yeast and begin to ferment. Animals have been observed eating such fruit- with predictable results! It doesn't seem like much of a stretch of the imagination that our ancestors knew about this too, and decided to refine the process.

Currently the earliest known use of wine dates back eight thousand years, thanks to archaeological evidence found on a hilltop in eastern European Georgia, where ceramic storage jars were found with wine stains inside. Further analysis discovered that whoever had made the wine was also using tree resin as a preservative to make it last longer- a technological development that suggests wine making is older still. From Georgia, evidence has been uncovered that shows it spreading out into the Middle East from sites in Turkey and Iran. The ancient city states and kingdoms that sprang up within the fertile crescent were also producing and importing wine.

The Rise in Popularity of Wine

Although, as we recently discovered, they may not have brought clotted cream to Britain, the Phoenicians were responsible for spreading, not only wine, but also the means to produce it, to the furthest reaches of the Mediterranean basin. The Phoenician civilization began around 5,000 years ago, growing up along the easternmost shoreline of the Mediterranean in the region known as Canaan. The cities of Sidon, Tyre and Byblos were all founded along the coast there. By the middle of the second century BCE their inhabitants had begun to sail out across the Mediterranean in force, becoming a wide ranging thalassocracy- an empire of the sea- focusing mainly on trade. They brought wine all the way to Iberia, now known as Spain, and many places in between.

Whilst it was the Phoenicians who showed people around the Mediterranean basin how to make wine, it was the ancient Greeks who had a huge effect on the development of the wine industry and culture in Europe. Alongside developments in vineyard management they enjoyed a little experimentation. Trying out various extra ingredients such as spices, herbs, oil and perfume, they paved the way for drinks like mulled wine and vermouth. The value of wine in ancient Greece was based less on who had made it and more on the region it came from, much like wine today. Ancient Greece even had its own wine critics. Poets would show their appreciation- or dislike- of certain wines in verse form, no doubt pleasing some and aggravating others as critics still manage to do this day!

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