Grape vines have been around for a millennia so did Neolithic Man drink wine? Apparently so – though it was far from the wine that we recognise today. The oldest known wine in the world has been found in Jiahu in Central China’s Henan Province. It was found amongst Neolithic relics and is approximately 9000 years old. The Jiahu area is already famous for yielding some of the earliest musical instruments and domesticated rice, as well as possibly the earliest Chinese pictographic writing. So 9000 years ago the human race was not that much dissimilar to how we are today. However the wine was a mixed fermented beverage of rice, honey and fruit and not made from grapes.
Charles Darwin suggested all grapes were descended from grapes now growing wild in Western Asia. From Asia, these wild grapes were carried into Europe and North Africa by the ancient Phoenicians and Romans. But the Asian grapes had actually been originally brought there from Italy. And the Italian grapes had actually been originally brought to Italy from southern France, where the oldest grape fossils have been found. So French grapes have always been influential grapes!
The oldest grape wine discovered so far is thought to be the remains of 7,000-year-old wine in 6 vessels unearthed at the site of a Neolithic village in Iran. Each jar could hold about 9 litres. They were unearthed in 1976 in what the scientists believed to be the kitchen area of a mud-brick building in Hajji Firuz Tepe, a village of the new Stone Age era in the northern Zagros mountains. Grapes grow wild in these mountains and have done so for millennia. Scientists identified calcium salt from tartaric acid, which develops naturally in large amounts only in grapes, and resin from the Terebinth tree.
The oldest glass bottle of wine in the world was unearthed during the 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. I can’t help but wonder what it would have tasted like!
The world’s oldest wine in a barrel hails from France and is a white wine from Alsace. With its bright shades of golden amber and its aromas of vanilla, hazelnut or camphor, the 1472 vintage of white Alsace wine has been ageing for over 500 years now in the cellars of the Strasbourg Hospice in eastern France. The wine has an alcohol content of 9.4% and has apparently survived because of its acidity.
About 1% evaporates each year (known as the Angel’s Share) so a bottle of dry white wine is added every three months. You may think this is a bit of a cheat but according to the townsfolk there is a particularly high percentage of dry matter (the solids in a wine) which is a guarantee of the persistence of the original wine. As there is dry matter from at least 300 litres of 1472 wine it remains a 1472 vintage. Hmm, I’m not sure about that one!
However I am sure about this one as it is recorded in the Guinness Book of Records . . . the world’s oldest grape vine is in Slovenia in the town of Maribor. It is over 400 years old, still bears grapes which are harvested for wine and has many offspring dotted about the globe. The grape vine variety is called Žametovka which is one of the oldest domesticated varieties in Slovenia. The vine grows in Lent, the oldest part of the town down by the river Drava; on the frontage of the Old Vine House.
Vine genetics experts in Paris have confirmed the authenticity of the age of the old vine and ancient paintings of Maribor dating from 1657 and 1681, kept in the Štajerska Provincial Museum in Graz, depict the 16th century house with the vine – although in those days the frontage was lushly overgrown with its leaves!
Well, the only thing I don’t seem to have covered in my “the oldest” blog is perhaps the oldest wine maker in the world . . . does anyone out there have any suggestions? In years from now I really do not think historians will be finding any full bottles of wine in or around my house the odd empty one may be it seems such a waste doesn’t it?
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