Forget France, Italy and Spain – the grapes used to make top European wines may have come from Asia

Forget France, Italy and Spain — the grapes used to make top European wines may have come from Western Asia and the Caucasus, where vineyards have existed for 11,000 years, research finds

  • Until now, the oldest evidence of winemaking dates back 8,000 years
  • But grapes were grown 11,000 years ago in Western Asia and the Caucasus

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Whether it’s a Barolo or a Malbec, many of the most popular wines come from France, Italy and Spain.

But a new study suggests the grapes used to make these top European wines may have come from Western Asia and the Caucasus.

Until now, the oldest archaeological evidence of winemaking dates back 8,000 years.

However, research led by Yunnan Agricultural University in China shows that grapes were grown simultaneously in Western Asia and the Caucasus about 11,000 years ago – much earlier than previously thought.

Author Wei Chan, lead author of the study, said: “Our estimate based on genomic data states that the vine domestication time is around the same time that humans domesticated cereal crops. This is a major improvement on previous estimates.”

Whether it's a Barolo or a Malbec, many of the most popular wines come from France, Italy and Spain.  But a new study suggests the grapes used to make these top European wines may actually have come from Western Asia and the Caucasus

Whether it’s a Barolo or a Malbec, many of the most popular wines come from France, Italy and Spain. But a new study suggests the grapes used to make these top European wines may actually have come from Western Asia and the Caucasus

Grapes were cultivated simultaneously in Western Asia and the Caucasus about 11,000 years ago - much earlier than previously thought.

Grapes were cultivated simultaneously in Western Asia and the Caucasus about 11,000 years ago - much earlier than previously thought.

Grapes were cultivated simultaneously in Western Asia and the Caucasus about 11,000 years ago – much earlier than previously thought.

Experts have found that the domestication of grapes occurred simultaneously “in Western Asia and the Caucasus to yield table and vine vines.”

In Western Europe we can thank ‘migrant farmers’ for our choice of wine.

They brought wine from Western Asia to Europe and vines then “diversified along human migration paths into Muscat and unique ancestors of Western wine grapes by the Late Neolithic.”

Wine grapes in the Balkans can be dated to 8,700 years ago, in Spain and Portugal to 7,740 years ago, and in Western Europe to 6,910 years ago.

The study notes that these dates “are consistent with the historical migration of Anatolian farmers to Europe, confirming the role of viticulture in the formation of Neolithic agricultural societies.”

The researchers cautioned that grape growing and winemaking are two different things — and whether ancient humans had the know-how to make wine from the very beginning is still “debatable.”

Mr. Chen theorized that Stone Age farmers initially grew grapes to eat the fruit rather than make something alcoholic, but eventually developed the art of winemaking.

A press release published alongside the study said that the genetic analysis of grapevines could be useful to winemakers today, noting that the research “also identifies some genes involved in grape domestication – improving taste, color and texture – which could help winemakers today to improve and make varieties more resistant to climate change and other stresses’.

Major environmental shifts also occurred around the world about 11,000 years ago, with sea levels rising due to melting ice caps.

It’s also the time when giant ground sloths – up to 6 meters long – became extinct, and livestock are not even thought to be domesticated anymore.

The findings were presented at the annual conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington.

WHAT IS THE BEST WAY TO TAST WINE GOOD?

When it comes to drinking wine, there are a few things that can make all the difference.

Australian wine connoisseur Caitlyn Rees shows you how to taste wines like an expert

Step 1: see

Before you even take that first sip, take a look at the wine in your glass.

‘See’ refers to the appearance of the wine. Here you can control the brightness, intensity and color.

“If the wine is cloudy, it could be faulty, but probably unfiltered.”

Step 2: swirl

You’ve probably seen wine drinkers swirl the wine in their glass before taking a sip.

The reason is to allow the wine to ‘open up’ and reveal the maximum amount of aroma, flavor and intensity.

‘Whirling releases the aroma particles that make the next step, smelling, more useful.’

Step 3: smell

Smelling wine serves two purposes. It helps you detect odors and flavors and provides a way to check for errors.

Step 4: Sip and enjoy

Once you’ve tasted the wine’s full aroma, it’s now time to sip.

Step 5: Spit or swallow

Unless the wine you are tasting has gone bad, swallowing is the last step in the wine tasting process.

The trick, though, is not to gulp it down.

It’s more about letting it float over the back of your tongue so your taste buds can pick up on the intensity of the flavor.

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