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04.18.2006

Wine and Civilization: The Worlds Earliest Tasting Notes

Thanks to regular reader Hector Hill for pointing me to a great article from the LA times about the early history of my second profession: wine geek. Apparently the early Greeks were the early geeks, and had all sorts of arguments and discussions about the merits of various vintages, wine growing regions, and more. They even wrote tasting notes in the fifth century BC. This one is absolutely priceless:

"Sweet generous Magnesian, and Thasian over which the scent of apples plays, this I judge much the best of all the other wines, after fine and harmless Chian. There is a certain wine that they call saprias, from the mouths of whose jars when they are opened there is a smell of violets, a smell of roses, a smell of larkspur, a sacred smell through all the high-roofed hall."
It's a great article and worth checking out. Wine has been a part of civilization for as far back as most people can remember.

Or has it?

Apparently while the civilized Greeks were super hip to wine, the industrious Romans didn't always quite savvy the old fermenting grapes trick. You've heard of ideas lost to the tides of history? Well it seems that at first the Romans either didn't know how, or simply didn't care to grow wine. Maybe they were too busy building aqueducts, or maybe they figured they'd eventually conquer some people who knew how to make wine.

A new series of archaeological studies seems to show that the first grape cultivation and winemaking in the Roman empire was not the result of the inexorable progress of intellectual thought, technology, and civilization. No, it was instead the punishment of invading barbarians. Celtic barbarians, to be most specific.

Think about that. Italy probably owes its wine culture and vineyards to a load of Scottish/Irish invaders with furs and horned helmets. While they were in Northern Italy, they drained swamps, planted vines, and grew some grapes. At least until Caesar threw them out. I guess they were eventually driven back to a rainy island where all they could drink was beer. A shame really. I think the Irish would have been great advocates for wine in the modern age.

Read the full story here.

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Required Reading for Wine Lovers

The Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson Wine Grapes The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson to cork or not to cork by George Taber reading between the vines by Terry Theise adventures on the wine route by Kermit Lynch Love By the Glass by Dorothy Gaiter & John Brecher Noble Rot by William Echikson The Science of Wine by Jamie Goode The Judgement of Paris by George Taber The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil The Botanist and the Vintner by Christy Campbell The Emperor of Wine by Elin McCoy The Taste of Wine by Emile Peynaud