Thursday, December 2, 2010

Fun Facts with Ancient Wine

1. The oldest bottle of wine ever found dates from 325 AD, and was dug up in 1867, near the town of Speyer, in Germany. The site of the discovery is a vineyard to this day. The content is still identifiable, though a large part of the bottle is taken up by what appears to be olive oil (a common method used by the Romans to seal up their wine).

2. Sweet wines were clearly the most popular in ancient Greece as well as in Rome, partly because of their staying power and partly because sweets were very rare and very expensive at the time

3. From ancient Greece, we know that the best wines were considered those from Hios, Thassos and Lesvos, while the region of Samos was ranked among the worst wine producers. In Rome, we can be even more specific: the best wine was the one from the year 121 BC, known as the Opimian (after the man who was consul during that year, who thus earned his place in history). A century later, reserves of that special wine were still available, although it was already spoiled; however, it was mixed with newer wines to increase their nobility.

4. If a Roman citizen caught his wife drinking wine, he had the right to kill her.

5. Horace wrote: “No poem was ever written by a drinker of water”. The most beautiful thing anybody could have said about wine.

6. Romans preferred aged wine, and, while preservatives and perfectly sealed containers did not exist yet, they considered that the best of wines had to be between 10 and 25 years old.

7. At the peak moment of wine consumption in Rome, it was estimated that the quantity traded was enough for every man, woman and child to drink half a liter of wine per day. (Remember that stuff I said earlier about women being killed if they drank wine? Yeah, that was no longer in fashion.)

8. A single amphora of good Roman wine, produced in Italy, could fetch abroad the same price as a slave.

9. Columella was a guy who lived in the 1st century AD and wrote a lot about the production of wine. He had the weird habit of writing in hexameter verse (seriously, who writes a technical paper in verse?) and describes in great detail the weirder habit of boiling the grape juice in a lead vessel to produce wine. The lead would add a bit of sweetness to the wine (while increasing its toxicity level, but that was secondary).

10. Volumes have been written about the Greek and Roman habit of mixing wine with water. Well, they mixed pretty much anything in, from salt water to honey and from lavender to rose petals. It has been speculated that the alcoholic content was higher in ancient wine, though the details we have about their production method don't seem to support this theory. Maybe it was just their well designed hangover protection method.