Wine, Words & Wednesday, No. 131

Georgian wine vessels  Photograph by Mindia Jalabadze, National Museum of Georgia.

Today’s words come to us from Dr. Patrick McGovern, Professor of Molecular Archeology at the University of Pennsylvania.

In a study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Dr. McGovern and his team found air-tight evidence of the world’s oldest wine in 8,000 year old pottery shards, unearthed in two Neolithic era archaeology sites in Georgia (the country, not the state).

Using radiocarbon dating, scientists ere able to date the pottery shards (from massive, 300-liter vessels) to within 200 years — the vessels were created between 6,000 and 5,800BC.

But wait, it gets better.

They also found chemical evidence of tartaric acid, along with citric, malic and succinic acids in these pottery shards.  The presence of tartaric acid is a molecular fingerprint for Vitis vinifera grapes.  And the presence of the other three acids proves fermentation.

Grapes + fermentation = WINE!

This discovery pushes back the previously accepted date of the first wine by 600 to 1,000 years.  Prior to this study, the oldest chemical evidence of wine was from the Zagros Mountains of Iran, dating to about 7,000 years ago.

Sidebar:  The world’s very first wine (although it was really more of a cocktail) is thought to have been made in China around 9,000 years ago, from a mixture of rice, honey, hawthorn fruit and grapes.

Why is this so important?  (I mean, besides the fact that the science behind this is just really, really cool.)

The Neolithic era saw the development of pottery and stone tools, the rise of farming, and the domestication of animals.  People began to quite literally put down roots.  And they grew vitis vinifera grapes to make wine — as an important part of a complex and sophisticated culture.

Neolithic man wasn’t just sitting around the fire making stone tools.  He was sitting around the fire making stone tools while drinking wine!


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