'Oldest' evidence of grape wine-making dates to 8,000 years ago, say archaeologists

The 'oldest evidence of grape wine-making' has been discovered in Georgia, according to researchers. The fermented beverage is "central to civilization," said one of the study's co-authors.

Scientists announced on Monday that the world's earliest traces of grape wine-making were discovered in Georgia, dating back to nearly 8,000 years ago.

The study published in the peer-reviewed journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) said the "discovery dates the origin of the practice to the Neolithic period around 6,000 BC, pushing it back 600 – 1,000 years from the previously accepted date."

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The researchers – hailing from the US, Canada, Denmark, France, Italy, Israel and Georgia – analyzed chemical compounds found in ceramic casks discovered at two archaeological sites called Gadachrili Gora and Shulaveris Gora, roughly 50 kilometers (30 miles) south of Tbilisi.

Using a combination of the latest mass spectrometry and chromatography techniques, analysis "confirmed tartaric acid, the fingerprint compound for grape and wine," the report said.

"We believe this is the oldest example of the domestication of a wild-growing Eurasian grapevine solely for the production of wine," said Stephen Batiuk, a co-author of the study and senior research associate at the University of Toronto.

The exxcavations were sponsored by the Georgian Wine Association and National Wine Agency of the Ministry of Agriculture, according to the University of Toronto.

Shards of Neolithic pottery vessels similar to this one contained traces of tartaric acid, considered wine's "fingerprint"

Wine 'central to civilization'

Before Monday's revelations, the oldest evidence of grape wine-making had come from pottery discovered in the Zagros Mountains of modern-day Iran dating back to roughly 5,400 – 5,000 BC.

However, the oldest evidence of wine-making dates to roughly 9,000 years ago in China and is thought to have been made from rice.

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"Wine is central to civilization as we know it in the West," said Batiuk. The domestication of the grape "eventually led to the emergence of a wine culture in the region."

"As a medicine, social lubricant, mind-altering substance and highly valued commodity, wine became the focus of religious cults, pharmacopoeias, cuisines, economies and society in the ancient Near East."

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The Wurstmarkt, the world's largest wine festival

The Dürkheim Wurstmarkt – literally sausage market – is the world's largest wine festival. Here, wine growers certainly don't skimp on size: Instead of dainty-stemmed wine glasses with just a few inches of red or white, Oktoberfest-inspired servings rule. One of the around 700,000 visitors every year in September, the German Chancellor seems to be having a good time.

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Crowned wine ambassadors

Every year, the various wine-growing regions in Germany elect young women as their new Wine Queens. Until 1999, the queen-to-be had to be unmarried, a rule that has since been nixed. On average, today's wine queens are 25 years old, and candidates must prove they have a "clear and strong association with German wines."

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Europe's steepest vineyard

The Calmont slope on Germany's Moselle River, right by the small town of Bremm, is 300 meters high and, with a gradient of up to 60 percent, it's not for the faint-hearted, or people who suffer from vertigo. Actually, the Calmont is Europe's steepest vineyard.

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Fine wines

From 1945 to 2006, Baron Philippe de Rothschild commissioned a different artist every year to design labels for his wines. Collectors are keen on bottles with labels by the likes of Picasso, Kandinsky, Warhol and Chagall. In 2006, the above 1945 Mouton Rothschild was sold at an auction for $28,750 (€24,500).

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Sweet and rare - ice wine

Leaving grapes on the wine long after harvest until the first big freeze is a challenge and a risk for every wine grower. The frozen grapes are picked in cold winter nights and pressed immediately, making for a thicker, sweeter and more aromatic wine with a delicate acidity. Popular dessert wines, German ice wines are renowned worldwide.

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Too cold up north

The 52nd parallel is regarded as German winegrowers' "Arctic Circle." The German town of Werder is situated in what is officially the world's northernmost wine-growing region. That hasn't kept a wine grower in Finland from taking a gamble: Warm water from a nuclear power plant's coolant system runs through pipes underneath his small local vineyard, keeping the ground frost-free.

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White or red?

White wine of course – or is it a red wine after all, despite appearances? If it is, it's called a "Blanc de Noir," white wine from a red grape. Remove the skin of the red grape, and you get light-colored juice and pulp. Modeled after French champagne that is often won from Pinot Noir grapes, this wine is low in acidity and quite agreeable.

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Germany's highest vineyards

Germany's southwest is the country's most sun-drenched region. The Baden region is perfect for growing both Riesling and Pinot Noir grapes. At 560 meters, the Hohentwieler Olgaberg may be Germany's highest wine growing region – but a vineyard in Argentine province of Salta easily tops that, with grapes harvested as high up as 3,111 meters of altitude.

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American roots

By around 1850, grape phylloxera, a pest that originated in North America, had arrived in Europe, spreading throughout wine-growing regions everywhere and destroying harvests for decades. The only solution was crossing the more delicate European grapes with American strains resistant to the blight. Et voilà! It was the salvation of European wines, to this very day.

ls/ (AFP, Reuters)