Wine is one of the most favored and widely consumed drinks in the world. Traditionally it has been drunk mostly in Europe, the Americas and Australia, but in recent years the popularity of wine has extended to include parts of Asia and China as well. Interestingly, the history of wine has several meeting points with the history of the Western world.
The origins and history of wine can be traced back as far as 4000 to 3000 B.C. to a fertile region between the Nile River and the Persian Gulf.
Historians believe that wine was discovered accidentally and as human settlements began to grow, people started trading goods and products, including wine.
The trading practice flourished in the Mediterranean region and the knowledge of how to make a heady alcoholic drink grew also.
Grapes were a fruit particularly favored by the Romans, Greeks and other dynasties, and the grape culture including wine spread quickly until it reached Europe.
Wine has now been enjoyed for more than 4,500 years and there are several references to wine in the Old Testament. Throughout the history of wine, its uses have included sacramental purposes in Christian churches, celebrations, day to day consumption and medicinal purposes.
The Role of the Grape in the History of Wine
As we all know, wine is made from the fermenting juice of grapes and can take many years to reach maturity. Suprisingly perhaps, there is only one species of grape, called ‘vitis vinifera’, which is used in all wines manufactured across the world.
This particular species of grape can be referred to as the father of all grapes because as many as 4,000 varieties have been developed from it so far. Though chemically different from each other, these grapes are similar in size, color, shape, composition of the juice and the time taken for ripening. However of these 4,000 varieties, only about a dozen are used for making wine with the most notable being riesling, chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir, gewurztraminer, sauvignon blanc and muscat.
History indicates that our ancestors were definitely familiar with the qualities of different types of grapes. Archeologists have discovered drawings of grape seeds on the walls of ancient caves. Historians tracing the history of wine say that it is possible that grapes may have initially been fermented with the help of wild yeasts.
By 3000 B.C. both Egypt and Persia had developed simple and effective ways to make wine. White wine was perhaps the first one to be prepared by the Egyptians from a grape variety we now know as the “muscat” grape of Alexandria. The drink was attributed to Orisis (God of death and fertility in Egyptian mythology) and was served during funerary rituals.
The European Influence on the History of Wine
At about this time, wine had already become a favored drink in Rome with wine cultivation becoming so popular that there was a large surplus of this spirit. So much so that in AD 92 a Roman emperor had to issue a decree that all vineyards outside of Italy be destroyed and uprooted. Though this lead to much loss, when replanting was allowed again other European countries such as France, Germany, and England benefited from it the most.
Since Islam forbade wine drinking, areas under the Muslim empire – from Southern Spain to North India to North Africa – remained unaffected by the winemaking phenomenon. However, the Catholic Church was a key factor in the prosperity of winemaking.
The Christian monks in France and Northern Italy maintained extensive records of the winemaking techniques, rituals, practices and methods of grapes cultivation. The records played an instrumental role as more regions began to compete to produce the best type of grape and best tasting wine in their areas. Therefore, by 1800, France and Northern Italy came to be recognized as the most well developed regions for producing wine in the world.
Current State of the History of Wine
Today, new regions such as Australia, Eastern Europe, South Africa and the American Napa Valley are providing tough competition to the reputed wine producing regions such as France, Italy, and England.
There are continual advances in wine making techniques leading to improved wine quality, taste, richness and variety. In addition, the global competitiveness of the wine industry means enhanced production techniques resulting in reduced prices – a great outcome for those who enjoy wine and another stage in the glorious history of wine.
The history of wine is a fascinating subject and to learn more, browse the extensive array of wine history books available at Amazon.