Wine has a very long history, reaching right back to the Golden Age of Sumer and Babylon some 6,000 years ago. It's tempting to think that the wine that we drink is much the same drink that the ancients enjoyed, but the truth is that it's very different.
Wine has a very long history, reaching right back to the Golden Age of Sumer and Babylon some 6,000 years ago. It's tempting to think that the wine that we drink is much the same drink that the ancients enjoyed, but the truth is that it's very different. Even in classical Greece and Rome it was commonly mixed with water and honey, mainly to disguise off flavours. Two things were discovered in the past three hundred years that have revolutionised the wine we drink: firstly the bottle and secondly the cork.
Throughout the millennia that wine has been made it was stored in a barrel and drunk as soon as winter had passed and cleared the liquid. If glass bottles were used, then it was only as a carafe for serving at the table. Before Louis Pasteur, people learned that wine tended to go off for no understandable reason once a barrel had been broached, hence wine was made to be drunk young. Aged wines weren't unknown; Petronius describes in his 'Satyricon' a dinner where the wine that was served came from the Opidian vintage of some 120 years earlier. This would have been stored in an amphora and would have been protected from the air by a layer of olive oil on the top, but this wasn't the norm. Wines were usually drunk the year after their vintage.
The discovery in the late 17th century that wine kept in a tightly corked bottle lasts much longer than in a barrel and matures with an elegant bouquet revolutionised things. Bottles changed shape to allow for stacking horizontally so that the cork wouldn't dry out, and elegant, mature wines became appreciated, leading to the market in the great aged clarets that still exists today.
Change is still with us. Wines are being made in places and countries where they have never been made before. The market for wines is growing globally, and in Ireland in particular. New technologies ensure that truly bad wine is almost impossible to find, but that same technology is moving producers into an ever closer agreement of what the consumer wants. Bland, unthreatening wines are increasingly common, sold by brand names to the market not to thrill, but merely to please as many palates as possible. Big brands are capturing increasingly large shares of the market, making individual, idiosyncratic wines harder to find, and for the producer, harder to sell. A case of the bland leading the brand.
Sangiovese Genius Loci, 2000