French wine has been made for nearly 2,500 years, and now, thanks to biomolecular study, we know how it all got started and even what the ancient Gauls were using to flavor some of their wines.
Residue left on large jars of pottery known as amphorae were analyzed by Patrick McGovern and a team of biologists from the University of Pennsylvania. The substances the examined are the oldest-known remains of wine-making in France.
The researchers were able to provide confirming evidence for the idea that Etruscans first introduced wine into France in what is now the city of Lattes around 2,500 years ago. Lattes sits in what is now the Languedoc-Roussillon region, a center of wine production. By B.C.E. 425, the Gauls living in the city, then known as Lattara, there were fashioning their own wines, as well. The city on the Mediterranean was an important trading post for the Etruscans, who lived in what is now northwest Italy, in a permanent alliance with Rome.
"First the Etruscans built up an interest in wine, then the native Gauls saw that this was something that they wanted to do themselves," McGovern said. McGovern is known as the "Indiana Jones of Alcohol" among archaeologists.
One of the wines in the jars was a variety seasoned with thyme, basil and rosemary. Another used pine pitch in its recipe.
"The taste of the wine was probably a lot different from what we think of today," Benjamin Luley, of the University of Chicago, said.
The Romans first invaded Gaul in B.C.E. 121, completing their conquest 70 years later. The people there, who called themselves Celts, were renamed Galli by Julius Caesar. With the Romans pushing the native people to adopt their language and culture, wine-making and drinking spread throughout the region.
It is believed that even the Etruscans were not the first to develop wine, themselves getting the libation from the Phoenicians in what is now Iraq. The grape which was the ancestor of all modern wine varieties was first domesticated in the Middle East 9,000 years ago.
A limestone press, thought to have been used to press olives was examined by the researchers and found to be an ancient grape press. Evidence for this was uncovered by analyzing a two-inch by two-inch piece of the press, which was found to have been exposed to tartaric acid, common in processing grapes.
The research on this ancient French wine was published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science.
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