Talk about vin­tage: Pottery shards show signs of 8,000-year-old wine

The Reporter (Lansdale, PA) - - NEWS - By Mal­colm Rit­ter

Talk about vin­tage wine: Pieces of bro­ken pottery found in the na­tion of Ge­or­gia pro­vide the ear­li­est known ev­i­dence for the ori­gins of to­day’s wine­mak­ing in­dus­try.

The eight shards, re­cov­ered from two sites about 30 miles (50 kilo­me­ters) south of Tbil­isi, are roughly 8,000 years old. That’s some 600 to 1,000 years older than the pre­vi­ous record, re­vealed by a wine jar found in nearby Iran.

It’s not the old­est sign of wine­mak­ing; other ev­i­dence shows that a bev­er­age that mixed grape wine with rice beer and other in­gre­di­ents was pro­duced as long as 9,000 years ago in China.

But the Chi­nese drink used a wild grape that has ap­par­ently never been do­mes­ti­cated, while the Ge­or­gian wine used a Eurasian grape species that did un­dergo do­mes­ti­ca­tion and led to the vast ma­jor­ity of wine con­sumed to­day, said re­searcher Pa­trick McGovern.

It’s not clear whether the an­cient Ge­or­gian vintners were us­ing a do­mes­ti­cated form, but it’s pos­si­ble be­cause they ap­par­ently made lots of wine, he said.

McGovern, from the Univer­sity of Penn­syl­va­nia Mu­seum of Ar­chae­ol­ogy and An­thro­pol­ogy in Philadel­phia, is part of an international team that pro­duced the new re­port. The find­ings were re­leased Mon­day by the Pro­ceed­ings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The new anal­y­sis showed

the shards had ab­sorbed the main chem­i­cal finger­print of wine, tar­taric acid, as well as some other sub­stances associated with the bev­er­age. The shards had come from jars that were prob­a­bly used for fer­men­ta­tion and stor­age.

The study was largely fi­nanced by the National Wine Agency of Ge­or­gia. The na­tion con­tin­ues to pro­duce wine and con­sid­ers it part of the national iden­tity.

“It is very in­ter­est­ing that dur­ing this 8,000 years there was no in­ter­rup­tion of wine-mak­ing tra­di­tion,” said Shalva Khet­suri­ani, head of the Som­me­lier As­so­ci­a­tion of Ge­or­gia.

The find­ing is “very sig­nif­i­cant” be­cause it gives new ev­i­dence that the ori­gins of wine­mak­ing should be sought in the re­gion, said Gre­gory Areshian, an ar­chae­ol­ogy pro­fes­sor at the Amer­i­can Univer­sity of Ar­me­nia who did not par­tic­i­pate in the work. In 2011, Areshian re­ported the dis­cov­ery of a 6,000-year-old win­ery in Ar­me­nia.

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