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Although wine has earned its place in our society for thousands and thousands of years, the question of who invented it -and when- still remains unanswered. As one might guess, the answer is far from simple, and the history of wine is deeply marked by mythology, which makes it difficult to separate fact from legend, but gives wine a particularly epic dimension that adds to its magic.
It is impossible to know with certainty the exact time and place where wine was invented. While 60 million year old fossils attest to man's early interest in wine, one must go several millennia forward to find thicker historical evidence.
However, among the many myths that have been told about the creation of wine, we can learn from an ancient Persian fable that this major discovery was pure chance. Consumed with sorrow after losing the favor of King Jamshid, a princess decided to end her life by eating spoiled grapes that were stored in a jar.
Predictably, her attempt did not turn out the way she thought. Instead of dying, the princess became intoxicated and passed out. When she woke up, she felt like a whole new person, free of all her torments. She then continued to eat spoiled grapes and was so profoundly transformed that she regained the king's favor.
According to numerous researches, it would appear that the cradle of wine is located in the lands of Georgia. This conclusion is based on the discovery of jars and wine presses dating back to the Neolithic period. In addition, Caucasus is one of the regions with the highest number of wild grape varieties, with more than 500 recorded. Many linguists would even claim that the word "wine" comes from the Georgian "ghvino" rather than the Greek "oinos".
The history of wine and wine making inevitably brings us back to the time of the Pharaohs in ancient Egypt, when the nectar of the gods was already enjoying considerable popularity. According to writings from that time, it seems that the Egyptians already had a taste for the disinhibiting virtues of wine.
Nevertheless, we must keep in mind that the wine that was drunk by the Egyptians at that time was still far from the red wine, white wine, champagne or rosé we know today. From what is known, the Egyptians used not only multiple varieties of grapes to make their beverages, but also other fermented fruits, such as dates, pomegranates and figs.
Grown in a sheltered environment away from the scorching Egyptian sun, the fruit was then harvested and pressed by the force of treading in a large vat.
The resulting must was then filtered and pressed in a bag press, from which the juice flowed to fill vats before being collected and stored in sealed amphorae.
As for the involvement of Greece in the history of wine, we are told, among other things, through the discovery of presses in tombs that date from 3000 to 2000 years BC.
The Greeks owe to the Phoenician merchants the first importation of wine on their land. It didn't take long for the Greeks before wine gained a prominent place in their civilization. The value the Greeks placed on wine could not be better illustrated than by the nickname they used for it: "the juice of the Gods". Indeed, it is without exaggeration that one can qualify as religious the Greeks' worship of wine. You are probably no stranger to the name Dionysus, the Greek god of wine and son of Zeus, who plays a major role in local mythology.
The Greeks used wine as a means of accessing a higher level of consciousness during meetings where they would discuss great philosophical topics.
Unlike the Egyptians, the Greeks used to consume alcohol in moderation, and it was considered bad manners to be drunk.
Wine was so deeply rooted in Greek culture, and became so widespread, that it was mostly from Greek vine cuttings that viticulture developed in Europe. The Greeks were also the first to set up a regulation regarding appellations and to sanction producers who improperly used them.
There are still traces of what wine was like in ancient Greece. In those days, wine was kept in amphorae whose inner walls were covered with resin, which made them more hermetic and facilitated preservation. This resin gave a distinctive taste to the wine, and although preservation methods have evolved and the use of resin is no longer necessary, it is still added to the process of making retsina, a typical Greek wine.
The ancient Greeks were particularly fond of sweet wines. They even used to add ingredients to make their wine sweeter, such as water, honey or spices. This tradition, initially linked, once again, to a matter of wine conservation, has also lasted for purely gustatory reasons.
One cannot trace the history of wine without mentioning the Romans. The Romans, an immensely powerful people of Antiquity, succeeded the Greeks in their supremacy over wine and its culture around 1000 BC. The Romans were responsible for major advances in winemaking, including the classification of different grape varieties and the invention of the wooden barrel, which plays a major role in aroma development.
Several centuries later, the Romans were also responsible for the first use of the glass wine bottle. From their Greek origins, the Romans kept their taste for long evenings debating existential issues, but not for moderation. Indeed, drunkenness did not have the same negative connotation among the Romans, and they rarely missed nights of indulgence.
It is clear that the history of wine is much more extensive and rich than can be summarized in a single article. Nevertheless, you now have a glimpse of the origins of man's relationship with wine, of the way it has progressively taken root in different civilizations, as much more than a simple drink, to become the emblem it is today.
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