Little is actually known of the early history of wine. It is plausible that early foragers and farmers made alcoholic beverages from wild fruits, including grapes of the species Vitis vinifera subsp. sylvestris, ancestor to modern wine grapes (V. vinifera). This would have become easier following the development of pottery vessels in the later Neolithic of the Near East, about 11,000 BCE.
In his book Ancient Wine: The Search for the Origins of Viniculture (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2003), Patrick McGovern argues that the domestication of the Eurasian wine grape and winemaking could have originated in the territory of the modern-day country of Georgia, spreading south from there.
The oldest known winery is located in the "Areni-1" cave in the Vayots Dzor Province of Armenia. Dated around 4100 BCE, the winery contains a wine press, fermentation vats, jars, and cups. Archaeologists also found grape seeds and vines of the species V. vinifera. Commenting on the importance of the find, McGovern said, "The fact that winemaking was already so well developed in 4000 BCE suggests that the technology probably goes back much earlier."
Domesticated grapes were abundant in the Near East from the beginning of the Early Bronze Age, starting in 3200 BCE. There is also increasingly abundant evidence for winemaking in Sumer and Egypt in the third millennium BCE. The ancient Chinese made wine from native wild "mountain grapes" like V. thunbergii for a time, until they imported domesticated grape seeds from Central Asia in the second century. Grapes were also an important food. There is slender evidence for earlier domestication of the grape, in the form of pips from Chalcolithic Tell Shuna in Jordan, but this evidence remains unpublished.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 a 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: the Southern Caucasus and the Near East. Wild grapes grow in Georgia, the northern Levant, coastal and southeastern Turkey, northern Iran and Armenia. None of these areas can yet be definitively singled out.
According to a Persian tale, legendary KingJamshid banished one of his harem ladies from the kingdom, causing her to become despondent and wishing to commit suicide. Going to the king's warehouse, the woman sought out a jar marked "poison" containing the remnants of grapes that had spoiled and deemed undrinkable. Unknown to her, the "spoilage" was actually the result of fermentation (the breakdown of the grapes' sugar by yeast into alcohol). She discovered the effects after drinking to be pleasant and her spirits were lifted. She took her discovery to the king, who became so enamored of this new "wine" beverage that he not only accepted the woman back into his harem but also decreed that all grapes grown in Persepolis would be devoted to winemaking. While most wine historians view this story as pure legend, there is archaeological evidence that wine was known and extensively traded by the early Persian kings.
Even though wild grapes grew all over the world, it was this productive Vitis Vinifera species which spread from the Middle East throughout the Mediterranean and into Europe.
Romans loved well-aged wines, sometimes aging it for as long as 25 years according to some Roman writings. Either they perfected the first airtight vessel or they liked oxidized wine. The Romans were the first to use ceramic jugs for storing wine.
MIDDLE EASTERN ORIGINSAn ancient Persian fable credits a lady of the court with the discovery of wine. This Princess, having lost favor with the King, attempted to poison herself by eating some table grapes that had "spoiled" in a jar. She became intoxicated and giddy and fell asleep. When she awoke, she found the stresses that had made her life intolerable had dispersed. Returning to the source of her relief, her subsequent conduct changed so remarkably that she regained the King's favor. He shared his daughter's discovery with his court and decreed an increase in the production of "spoiled" grapes...
Certainly wine, as a natural phase of grape spoilage, was "discovered" by accident, unlike beer and bread, which are human inventions. It is established that grape cultivation and wine drinking had started by about 4000 BC and possibly as early as 6000 BC. The first developments were around the Caspian Sea and in Mesopotamia, near present-day Iran. Texts from tombs in ancient Egypt prove that wine was in use there around 2700 to 2500 BC. Priests and royalty were using wine, while beer was drunk by the workers. The Egyptians recognized differences in wine quality and developed the first arbors and pruning methods. Archeological excavations have uncovered many sites with sunken jars, so the effects of temperature on stored wine were probably known.
GRECO-ROMAN CONTRIBUTIONSWine came to Europe with the spread of the Greek civilization around 1600 BC. Homer's Odyssey and Iliad both contain excellent and detailed descriptions of wine. Wine was an important article of Greek commerce and Greek doctors, including Hippocrates, were among the first to prescribe it. The Greeks also learned to add herbs and spices to mask spoilage.
The foundation and strength of viniculture in Western Europe are primarily due, however, to the influence of the Romans. Starting about 1000 BC, the Romans made major contributions in classifying grape varieties and colors, observing and charting ripening characteristics, identifying diseases and recognizing soil-type preferences. They became skilled at pruning and increasing yields through irrigation and fertilization techniques.
WORLD'S OLDEST BOTTLE of WINEUnearthed during excavation for building a house in a vineyard near the town of Speyer, Germany, it was inside one of two Roman stone sarcophaguses that were dug up. The bottle dates from approximately 325 A.D. and was found in 1867.
The greenish-yellow glass amphora has handles formed in the shape of dolphins. One of several bottles discovered, it is the only one with the contents still preserved.
The ancient liquid has much silty sediment. About two-thirds of the contents are a thicker, hazy mixture. This is most probably olive oil, which the Romans commonly used to "float" atop wine to preserve it from oxidation. Cork closures, although known to exist at the time, were quite uncommon. Their oil method of preservation was apparently effective enough to keep the wine from evaporation up to modern day.
The bottle is on permanent display, along with other wine antiquities, at the Historisches Museum der Pfalz (History Museum of the Pfalz), worth a visit if traveling near the area of Speyer, Germany.
Types of Ancient Wines
|Some General Wines|
|Mustum||A low quality grape juice, mixed with vinegar and drank fresh after pressing.|
|Mulsum||A common class wine, generally sweetened with honey and served to Plebes and the lower classes at public events.|
|Lora (Vinum Operarium)||A bitter wine made from the grape skin husks, seeds and any other product left over from the pressing process. Fermented by soaking in water, it was generally served to slaves, though some lower classes, and even soldiers may have had access to wines that were hardly any better. Varro, however claimed that it was the drink of old women. Today these excess grape products are used in distilling the liquor Grappa.|
|Posca||A sour vinegar like wine (acetum) mixed with water to reduce the bitterness and generally available to soldiers and lower classes.|
|Vinum Praeliganeum||Manufactured from inferior and half-ripe fruit gathered before the regular harvest period. Perhaps also used in the production of ciders and similar drinks.|
|Vinum Dulce||A sweet wholesome wine, made from dried grapes that were pressed in the heat of the day.|
|Vinum Diachytum||Similar to vinum dulce but grapes were allowed to dry in the sun for longer periods of time. The wine was described as more 'luscious' than the vinum dulce.|
|Passum||Raisin wine. Obviously made from nearly completely dried grapes. It's most prized variety was imported from Crete.|
|Vinum Marrubii, Scillites, Absinthiates, Myrtites||Example of wines used for medicinal purposes. Marrubii for coughs, Scillites for digestion and as a tonic, Absinthiates roughly corresponding to modern Vermouth and Myrtites as a general medicine aiding many ailments.|
|Some Specific Wines|
|Vinum Pramnian||A Greek wine that was considered harsh, astringent and remarkably strong.|
|Chian||Perhaps the most prized Greek wine, with the best variety coming from Ariusium.|
|Lesbian||A Greek wine hailing from the island of Lesbos, and Mytilene in particular. It was considered light, wholesome and had natural taste of salt water.|
|Setinum||An strong, sweet Italian wine of Latium considered perhaps the best of wines. It was the favored wine of Augustus hailing from the hills of Setia. However, Setinum seems to have fallen into disfavor and became nearly extinct due to miscultivation and the canal of Nero that was dug out directly in this grapes natural habitat.|
|Caecuban||Another sweet wine of Latium. Before the imperial period, this seems to have been the most prized grape variety. This grape too, seems to have suffered under Nero's canal.|
|Rhaetic||A sweet wine made from grapes grown in the Alps, especially prized from near Verona, Italy. Suetonius claims that this wine, and not Setinum was actually the favorite of Augustus.|
|Falernian||A highly prized wine, available mainly to the upper classes. It was made from the Aminean grape originating near Naples, but transfered to Mt. Falernus between Latium and Campania. These vines grew best around elm trees. It produced a full-bodied drink that was best when aged between 10 and 20 years, and had a near yeast killing alcohol content of up to 16%.|
|Alban||A preferred wine among the upper classes, it provided several varieties of flavors including very sweet, sweetish, rough, and sharp. It was considered perfect if kept for 15 years.|
|Surrentine||Hailing from the bay of Naples, this mid class wine was considered lacking in richness and very dry. It was best when kept between 5 and 20 years. The Emperor Tiberius referred to it as nothing more than generous vinegar. His successor Caligula called it nobilis vappa, indicated it being known as worthless. Of course, these men had tastes for higher qualities, so their reaction can be understood.|
|Massic||Another product of Naples vines. It was considered a harsh wine.|
|Gauranian||From the ridge above Baiae and Puteoli, produced in small quantity, but of very high quality, full bodied.|
|Calenian||Hailing from Cales, Calenum was a large grape and its wine, according to Pliny, was better for the stomach than Falernian.|
|Fundanian||Again, Pliny suggests that this wine was full bodied and nourishing, but apt to attack both stomach and head; therefore little sought after at banquets.|
|Mamertine or Messanic||This wine hailed from Sicily and was made fashionable by Julius Caesar. He served it often as his various public events and triumphs. The finest of this type was called Potalanum.|
|Baeterrae||A Gallic (or later French) wine that was considered acceptable to the Romans. It's grape was cultivated in the south, or Narbonensis.|
|Balearic, Tarraco and :Lauron||3 wines of Hispania (and the Balearic isles, obviously) that were considered worthy imports.|
|Laletani||Another wine of Hispania, that was famed not so much for quality, but for the massive quantity in which it was produced.|
|Mareoticum||An Egyptian grape originating near Alexandria. It was said to be white, sweet, fragrant and light.|
|Chalybonium||An eastern wine, whose finest product seems to have come from near Damascus, Syria.|
|Taenioticum||Named from a long narrow sandy ridge near the western extremity of the Nile Delta. It was aromatic, slightly astringent, and of an oily consistency, which disappeared when it was mixed with water.|
The word "wine" is mentioned 231 times in the King James Bible. In the Old Testament there are 3 Hebrew words that are all translated as “wine”.
YAYIN: Intoxicating, fermented wine (Genesis 9:21).
TIROSH: Fresh grape juice (Proverbs 3:10).
SHAKAR: Intoxicating, intensely alcoholic, strong drink (often referred to other intoxicants than wine) (Numbers 28:7).
The New Testament, translated from Greek, uses the word “wine” for both fermented and unfermented drink. There are 2 Greek words for wine the New Testament.
OINOS: Wine (generic) - Matthew 9:17 -- unfermented, Ephesians 5:18 -- fermented.
GLEUKOS: Sweet wine, fresh juice (Acts 2:13).
The context reveals the type of wine as in Proverbs 20:1, ”Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise”. If grape juice is substituted for the word wine, the verse doesn't make sense.
The Bible is full of prohibitions about using alcoholic wine. It was forbidden for priests and for those who took the Nazarite vow. It was forbidden for kings and princes (Proverbs 31:4-6) and pronounced woe upon anyone who provided his neighbor alcoholic wine and made him drunk (Habakkuk 2:15). It would be inconsistent for the Bible to speak against alcoholic wine and then have Jesus ignore it.
Fermentation, Preservation and Alcoholic Content
One must have a clear understanding of fermentation to see the unlikelihood of the above contention. First, naturally (no additives) fermented wine has a low alcoholic content. Until the advent of widely available granulated sugar, strongly alcoholic wine was rare. To make wine strongly alcoholic like what we have today (10%-15%) you must add a lot of sugar and yeast. These are the two key components to fermentation, and they are not present in large enough quantities naturally to create the strong wine we have today. Alcoholic wine during biblical times, which was much weaker than the wine of today, was often watered down for drinking. They basically only had water and wine. Like Pepsi or Coke today, wine was consumed by adults and children alike as a tasty substitute for water. Watering down wine was something they did and they drank it this way regularly. Also, boiling it down to a syrup was frequently done for preservation. This boiling killed the yeast that would cause fermentation. The syrup could easily be reconstituted later for drinking purposes. A third form of preservation was by straining out the yeast to prevent fermentation.
Wine was consumed at all levels of society and it became, along with oil and grain, one of the three main products of Mediterranean agriculture and commerce. Greek wine could be found in locations as diverse as France, Egypt, around the Black Sea, and in the Danube region. Moreover, the Greeks introduced viticulture to France (with limited plantings near modern Marseilles), southern Italy, and Sicily.
The extent of the Greek wine trade is evident in the many wrecked ships along the Mediterranean coast. One ship carried an astonishing ten thousand amphoras (sixto seven-gallon earthenware jars) that would have contained as much as 66,000 gallons of wine, or 400,000 standard modern bottles. It is estimated that 2.2 million gallons of Greek wine were shipped to France each year through the port that is now Marseilles.
The Greeks not only supplied foreign markets with wine, but they also consumed vast quantities domestically. Far from being an elite beverage, wine was consumed at all levels of society. This was an example of an egalitarian approach to drinking expressed by Euripides, who wrote that Dionysus (the Greek god of wine) had given "the simple gift of wine, the gladness of the grape" to "rich and poor" alike. Yet there were significant variations in the quantity and quality of wine consumed at different social levels. The affluent drank wine that was described as quite full-bodied and sweet. The poor drank a thin, low-alcohol, bitter solution made by soaking the skins, seeds, and stalks left over after the final pressing of the grapes.
The ratio of water to wine varied. Homer (Odyssey IX, 208f.) mentions a ratio of 20 to 1, twenty parts water to one part wine. Pliny (Natural History XIV, vi, 54) mentions a ratio of eight parts water to one part wine. In one ancient work, Athenaeus’s The Learned Banquet, written around A.D.200, we find in Book Ten a collection of statements from earlier writers about drinking practices. A quotation from a play by Aristophanes reads: “‘Here, drink this also, mingled three and two.’ Demus. ‘Zeus! But it’s sweet and bears the three parts well!’” The poet Euenos, who lived in the fifth century B.C., is also quoted:The best measure of wine is neither much nor very little;For ‘tis the cause of either grief or madness.It pleases the wine to be the fourth, mixed with three nymphs.
Here the ratio of water to wine is 3 to 1. Others mentioned are:3 to 1—Hesiod4 to 1—Alexis2 to 1—Diodes3 to 1—Ion5 to 2—Nichochares2 to 1—Anacreon
Sometimes the ratio goes down to 1 to 1 (and even lower), but it should be noted that such a mixture is referred to as “strong wine.” Drinking wine unmixed, on the other hand, was looked upon as a “Scythian” or barbarian custom.