Depending on your point of view, our species’ ability to metabolize alcohol has been lucky or unlucky. We’ve had this “gift” for a long time. Purposely carved jugs from the late Stone Age show a close association between deliberately fermented beverages and sentient hominidae. Chemical analysis of jugs uncovered in northern China, dating from 6500 BC, revealed trace elements of an alcoholic beverage made from a mix of rice, berries and grapes. Unlike their contemporaries in Asia Minor, the Chinese did not pursue the fermentation of grapes—opting to focus on the production of rice wine. In the 14th century, Marco Polo wrote that rice wine was consumed for all occasions, from birth to death (and even formal executions). Needless to say, this habit was encouraged, since alcohol taxes were a great source of revenue for the treasury. (Isn’t it amusing how history repeats itself?)
It is generally accepted that (grape) wine was first introduced in Georgia or Armenia from around 6000 BC. Production of wine on a consistent basis, however, first took place in Persia around 5400 BC. This Pandora’s box of knowledge was exported to Egypt around 3200 BC —and was quickly followed by the production of wine along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in Babylon. (One can only wonder what parallels can be drawn to the development of fermented beverage in pre- Hispanic Central America and Mexico around 2000 BC.)
Sumerian and Egyptian texts show the use of wine for medicine from around 2000 BC. But it figured more prominently in religious ceremonies and offerings. Depending on the empire, wine was either deified or associated with a deity (in one case the lowly wine press was made a god). The Greeks consumed wine throughout the day (including breakfast). And the Romans watered their wine, either in equal parts or one part wine to four parts water. (Over the last week, we have seen the need for a secure supply of pure drinking water; we can only admire the skill of Roman engineers who brought fresh water to a city of one million via aqueducts and used the river Tiber as the conduit to expel the waste.)
At some point, however, light beer or cider became the beverage of the working class, with the finer wine reserved for the ruling stiffs. Lucky for us, this has changed recently.
THIS WEEK’S PICK
A major shout out to Brian Hanna, the charming and charismatic sommelier at Huff Estates. He was awarded this year’s VQA Promoters Award in Retail. Not only does Brian have an encyclopedic knowledge of wine, but he is also a wonderful ambassador for the tourist industry in the County.
Best of all, he is a really nice man. The award is well deserved.