Ancient History of Wine
Au revoir, misconception that France was the birthplace of vineyards.
Bonjour, realization that wine is way cooler than anyone let on. The history of
this beverage goes back a long way – longer than I’d ever imagined – to about
6000 BCE in modern day Georgia, where the first traces of wine were discovered
by archaeologists. To put 6000 BCE in some perspective, that’s 2 thousand years
before the wheel was in Mesopotamia and 5 thousand years before Helen of Troy.
But the site in Georgia isn’t the only one of its kind. Traces of other ancients
getting their kicks with wine have popped up in other areas too – the earliest
in Iran and Armenia. In Armenia, a cave was discovered that contained a wine
press, fermentation jars, and the earliest known shoes which date back to 4100
BCE (these Stone Age peoples had it going on). A few thousand years later in
around 3200 BCE, grapes began being domesticated. You know, it doesn’t seem like
a big to-do, but that’s just around the first dynasty in Egypt – before any of
the earliest hieroglyphics – so it’s pretty amazing that people had this whole
process figured out. I’m lucky if I can remove a cork with an electric opener.
The major cultures of this area all began adopting deep, tasty wine. In ancient
Egypt, grapes began being cultivated in 3000 BCE due to trade with Canaan during
the Early Bronze Age. Around the Nile Delta, vineyards were thriving, and
eventually wine became an integral part of Egyptian life. Not only was it in
tons of Egyptian art on tomb walls and sarcophaguses, but wine was the drink of
the afterlife (which these ancients prized more than anything). By the end of
the Old Kingdom (2152 BCE), Egyptians had created 5 different red wines, though
they were mainly for the upper crust. The lower classes mostly drank beer – with
the exception of the Jewish people. Wine, it seems, goes back to the earliest
known records of the faith, which makes since, as they were nomadic in the areas
from which wine was originally cultivated.
It’s unknown when wine was introduced to Greece, but it clearly played a major
role in their lives – they did, after all, have a god dedicated to it.
Everyone’s favorite ancient lush, Dionysus, was frequently referred to in works
of Homer and Aesop, promoting his reputation for basically being a screw up and
causing mayhem wherever he went. (He probably made a lot of people feel better
about last night.) However, unlike the wine of Egypt, the wine in Greece was
made from grapes similar to those of thousands of years prior, and was mostly of
the white variety, flavored by tree resin which lined the jugs that it was
As the world grew up, wine became increasingly more popular. By the Middle Ages,
it was the most consumed drink, as it was served at every single meal – both red
and white. But they watered it down quite a bit to avoid being completely
inebriated all day (how would anything get done?). Also unlike today, they
didn’t age their wine. There was no time for it, as they were consuming it too
quickly to store any. Eventually, the Benedictine Monks sort of took over the
process of wine making, technologies became more advanced, the world expanded,
and the wine of today was created, but the roots of wine run deep, right along
with those of humanity.