Italian wine
Written by Marco Saccani
Wednesday, 06 August 2008 19:28
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The Ancient History of Wine

The history of wine in many ways coincides with the history of the western world. Historians generally agree that wine was probably discovered accidentally in the Fertile Crescent area, the region between the Nile and Persian Gulf during the time of the world's first civilizations between 4000 and 3000 B.C. As small settlements grew into city-states and trade began to develop on a large scale throughout the Mediterranean, the grape enjoyed transport by peoples such as the Phoenicians, Greeks and Romans until the knowledge of winemaking spread throughout the Mediterranean region and eventually through much of Europe. Ancient man was most certainly familiar with grapes. The walls of ancient caves have turned up drawings of grape seeds. Historians believe that grapes most likely first fermented by accident with the help of wild yeasts which must have been present when grape skins were held in storage. It is Egypt and Persia, two areas of the Fertile Crescent that most probably witnessed the birth of the fermented spirit. By 3000 B.C., both regions appeared to have simple early winemaking methods down. Egyptians grew grapes in the fertile Nile delta region—probably a white wine made from the what is today called the Muscat grape of Alexandria. They then stomped and fermented the grapes in large vats. It is not surprising that the early Egyptians attributed this drink with the god Osiris and used it during funerary rituals.
In Persia, wine was also thought of as a divine gift. Today, it is thought that some of the finest grape vines today stem from precursor species cultivated by the Persians. However, it is believed that the Phoenicians, masters of seafaring, were the people responsible for the spread of winemaking techniques to such areas as Greece and Italy—especially the region of Tuscany.
While wine was popular in Rome ( see also Wine History II / Romans )it was forbade by the Islamic Code and consequently the areas under Muslim control—Southern Spain to North Africa to North India—saw a ceasing of winemaking. Winemaking greatly prospered under the Catholic Church who held widespread influence over Christian Europe. Eventually, winemaking capability and practiced extended to far-flung places like England who enjoyed wine varieties of Sherry, Port and Madeira.
Christian monks of France and northern Italy kept records of their winemaking practices and grape cultivation. These records helped various regions match themselves with the best variety grape for their soil. By 1800, France would be recognized as the best of the wine-producing regions of the world.

The Drink of Horace: A Short History of Italian Wine

"No poem was ever written by a drinker of water," the great Roman poet, Horace wrote. People have enjoyed drinking wine for thousands of years ever since its ancient origins in Mesopotamia, near present-day Iran. Italian and French wines are amongst the best and Italy is the largest producer of wine. This makes sense because the Romans made the most contributions to the ancient art of viniculture.
The Greeks, who settled in southern Italy and Sicily, exported the art of wine-growing to Italy. They were so impressed with the mild Italian climate which was perfect for producing wines that they called Italy, Oenotria, or the land of trained vines. The Etruscans, who settled in central Italy, also produced wines. The Romans improved the techniques that the Greeks and Etruscans used.

Demand for wine increased greatly with the population explosion in Romefrom 300B.C. to the beginning of the Christian era. It increased to over one million people and, as even the slaves drank wine, much more wine had to be produced.
The Romans loved their wine, drinking it with every meal. However, as the alcohol content was stronger than ours, they mixed it with large quantities of water. They preferred sweet wine and strangely enough their most prized wine was white. This came from the area that they thought was the best wine-growing region, the Falernian region near Naples.
Unusual flavors were often added to the wine. The Romans liked to mix honey with this drink to make an aperitif called mulsum. They often added herbs and spices, but were known to mix wine with salt water which must have given it an extremely bitter taste. Even chalk was sometimes mixed with wine to reduce acidity!

The many contributions the Romans made to the art of wine-growing included using props and trellises, improving the Greek presses used for extracting juice, classifying which grapes grew best in which climate, and increasing the yields.
The Romans exhibited good taste by deciding that aged wines tasted better and preferred wines that were ten to twenty-five years old. They discovered that wines which were kept in tightly closed containers improved with age and became the first to store it in wooden barrels. They may also have been the first to use glass jars and they also used corks.
They exported their excellent wine-growing techniques to other areas of Europe and these were not changed for centuries. But demand for wine decreased with the fall of the Roman Empire. Surprisingly Roman Catholic monks continued to produce wine during the Dark Ages but it only became popular again during the Renaissance.
During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries Italian wine was often criticized for its poor quality and the government decided that steps had to be taken. DOCG or new wine regulations were introduced to improved the quality of the wine. Today Italian wines are considered by critics to be amongst the best in the world. As there are twenty different regions to choose from, each with different varieties, it is never difficult to find a fine Italian wine!

Last Updated on Monday, 23 April 2012 12:51