The earliest evidence of wine making ranges from 7000 to 5000 B.C. in the late Stone Age, evidenced by pips (seeds) of cultivated vines found in the Caucausus mountain range in present day Georgia. Small vine cuttings encased in silver have also been found in tombs dated over 5000 years old, indicating wines significance to early Georgian society.
From the Georgians wine spread rapidly south to the great civilizations on the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, through to the Black Sea and the Mediterranean. Wine became pervasive in all parts of society, from trade to law, to medicine and religion with a history of politics, drama, religion and war. Wine changed society like no other food or beverage ever could and probably gained such popularity as it traveled well, kept for long periods of time, and was higher in alcohol than beer.
The Egyptians ascribed wine to the god Osiris “lord of the wine at flooding”, the Greek god was Dionysus, the Roman god, Bacchus, the Babylonian goddess, Siduri. Religion and medicine have a long history with wine, The Jewish Talmud says “Wherever wine is lacking, drugs become necessary”, a 6th century B.C. Indian medical text states wine as “invigorator of mind and body, antidote to sleeplessness, sorrow and fatigue…”. Probably the most famous wine quote from antiquity is from the 11th century, the Persian Omar Khayyam wrote a long series of quatrains, titled Rubaiyat.
“You know, my friends, how long since in my House For a new Marriage I did make carouse: Divorced old barren Reason from my bead and took the Daughter of the Vine to Spouse”
The sophistication of wine in the ancient world was quite remarkable. The Canaanites, Phoenicians, Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans all had different grades of wine for consumption. The Amphora’s, a clay vase with two handles and a tapered bottom, would have stamps on the handles as to their origin, their size varied from 25litres to 60litres and would be set against a tripod or poured into a larger container for serving. The Romans were the first to employ a grading system to growing areas, Falernian was the first to be recognized, with three varieties, austerum (dry), dulce (sweet), and tenue (light wine).
Although the grading of wine in the ancient world was regulated the wines looked and tasted nothing like today’s offerings. The ancient wines were served either warm or cool and to this you would add, to personal taste of course, spices or sugar, pitch, and if you were a discerning patron, seawater.
With the decline of the Roman Empire, Europe plunged into the Dark Ages, wines influence waned, and vineyards became relegated to monasteries and churchyard plots. Wines influence was revived with the ascension of Charlemagne, who was ambitious and successful, expanding his empire by conquering the Saxons and eventually the Holy Roman Empire. On Christmas day, 800 A.D., Pope Hadrian I. crowned Charlemagne Emperor by placing a gold crown on his head. This event shifted the seat of power from the south of Europe to the north with the Rhine as the center of his empire, the newfound stability spurred trade and Europe’s fortunes and population increased with wine as a key commodity. Wines allure and intrigue continued to the present day where a rare left bank Bordeaux can set you back as much as a house or three.