Mankind has been making wine from grapes for thousands of years. Here are some fun facts about wine in the ancient world:
• The oldest evidence of grape wine comes from six vessels found in Iran which contain the residue of 7,000-year-old wine. The oldest known winery, which is located in southern Armenia, is about 6,000 years old. The oldest known wine cellar, located in present-day Israel, is approximately 3,700 years old and held the equivalent of about 3,000 bottles of wine.
• In ancient times, wine was used for medicinal purposes by many cultures, including Egypt, China, Rome and Greece. It was used to treat various medical complaints, as an antiseptic for wounds, as a mixing medium for other medicines, and it was added to water supplies to prevent waterborne diseases such as typhoid.
• Hammurabi’s Code (circa 1770 BC) contained laws regulating the wine trade. For example, the Code specified that fraudulent wine sellers were to be dumped in the river.
• Ancient Egypt had a sophisticated wine classification system. Wine labels included the name of the estate where the wine was produced, the type of wine, the date of the vintage, the vintner’s name and a quality assessment.
• Ancient Greeks almost always diluted their wine with water, and some believed that drinking undiluted wine was a health risk. In fact, some Spartans believed that the regular drinking of undiluted wine caused the insanity and death of their King Cleomenes.
• Pompeii, a major wine shipping port and an important wine center, was the city of Rome’s principle supplier of wine. The area surrounding Pompeii had extensive vineyards, and the city had more than 200 taverns. When Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD, tragically obliterating the city and the surrounding area, it wiped out vineyards and wine warehouses, causing a wine shortage.
• Ancient vintners used additives such as resin, lime, lead and gypsum in an attempt to prevent wine from spoiling. Other ingredients, such as honey, aromatic herbs, seawater and various oils were added to wine to improve the taste.
• The Romans spread viticulture and winemaking techniques throughout the Mediterranean and Europe, establishing the foundation for many of today’s most important wine regions. Areas where they introduced or influenced winemaking techniques include present-day France, Spain, Portugal, North Africa, Turkey, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg and Britain.