A Brief History of Wine

When one thinks about wine, it is commonly believed to originate from European wine-loving countries such as Italy, Spain, and France. It is easy to envision the beautiful rolling hills of the California and Tuscan countryside, where some of the best wines in the world are made, and the beautiful purple grapes growing on its vines. As one becomes increasingly acquainted with winetasting and winemaking, one question will surely arise – where and when was wine invented?

To clarify, wine itself was not necessarily “invented”, but rather it was discovered. It was the winemaking process that was invented, and after its inception it led to a worldwide phenomenon that spread throughout several nations. Nonetheless, considering wine’s long and convoluted history that spans over thousands of years, it is indeed difficult to trace back to its truest, original origin.

The first written tale of wine is in the Old Testament of the Christian Bible, when Noah planted grapevines and made wine. But contrary to what most people might expect, the oldest wine beverage was made from rice and honey in China about 9,000 years ago. Fermented beverages made its way to regions beyond China between 8000 B.C. and 4100 B.C., with archaeological evidence pointing to grape residue found in clay jars in Georgia, signs of grape domestication in Turkey, and even remains of the oldest wine production site in the world located in Armenia.

The art of wine and winemaking shook the world, as Pharaohs used wine as a ceremonial drink in Egypt in 3100 B.C. and Phoenicians turned wine into a commodity through trading across the Mediterranean in 1200 B.C.. As wine gained increasing popularity through trade, it made its way to Greece around 800 B.C., and the Greeks even named a god after this beverage: Dionysus. Wine became a Greek symbol of prosperity and health, earning it the nickname “the drink of the gods.” In 146 B.C., when the Romans from Italy conquered Greece, wine became an inherent part of their culture and created Bacchus, their own god of wine. As the Roman Empire expanded, Romans began planting grapevines throughout Italy and in what is now known as France, Germany, Portugal, Spain, and several other Central European countries.

Ever since wine colonized countries and cultures across the world, winemaking inevitably evolved over time. One of the biggest differences between ancient wine and wine as we know it today lies in its preservation techniques. Unlike today’s protective wine bottles, ancient wine spoiled quickly because of its excessive exposure to oxygen, causing contamination and giving way to a repelling smell and a salty palate. Herbs were even added to the wine to improve its taste, and it was common for its unpleasant flavor to be justified for social reasons and religious rituals. It wasn’t until around the 18th century that safer water supplies allowed winemakers to make better quality wine, and later in the 19th century, scientist Louis Pasteur helped winemakers turn winemaking into a more meticulous craft.

In a nutshell, wine’s significant impact on the world stems from an extensive journey that is thousands of years old. It has survived wars and trades, and people’s admiration and fascination for it never wavered. More importantly, the presence of wine in religion, art, and literature underscores that wine is not simply a drink to consume, but it is also a beautiful experience.

by Claudia Marie Huynh