Thursday, June 6, 2013

France's Love Affair With Wine Dates To 500 BCE

Alcoholic Drinks

An article, by Mark Peplow, in Nature News says that wine-making in France dates to at least 500 BCE; forensic analysis of jars from 2,500 years ago confirm this finding.

Peplow writes:
France is renowned for its mastery of winemaking, but when did the country begin its love affair with the vine? A chemical analysis of archaeological artefacts finds evidence that wine was being produced in the south of France by the fifth century BC. “It’s the earliest evidence we have of winemaking by the Gauls,” says Patrick McGovern, a biomolecular archaeologist at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, who led the study.
Winemaking originated in the Middle East more than 8,000 years ago, spreading to Egypt by 3000 BC and then to the now-Greek island of Crete by 2200 bc. A thousand years later, Greek and Phoenician merchants had begun shipping wine throughout the Mediterranean region, each in their own distinctively shaped jars called amphorae. By 600 BC, the Etruscans of central Italy were trading their wine along the French Mediterranean coast. Around the same time, wine-loving Greeks established a colony at Massalia (present-day Marseilles, France).
A team led by McGovern has now investigated items from the ancient coastal town of Lattara, one of the best-preserved Iron Age sites in France, located about 125 kilometres west of Marseilles. Using a battery of chemical techniques, including mass spectrometry and infrared spectroscopy, the researchers analysed residues inside Etruscan and Massaliote amphorae that had been retrieved from excavations in Lattara’s merchant quarters.
This pressing platform from the Gallic town of Lattara, in southern France, bore traces of tartaric acid — a clue that it was used for winemaking. Grape remains were found near the fifth century BC artefact. The team found tartaric acid, which occurs in grapes, in all of the jars — strong evidence that they once contained wine. The analyses also revealed the characteristic fingerprints of pine resin, as well as herbs such as rosemary and basil, which may have served as flavourings or preservatives, or added to give the wine medicinal properties.
Drinking a moderate of red wine—one or two glasses a day—scientific studies show, can improve a person’s well-being. An article (“Red Wine and your Heart”), by Paul E. Szmitko and Subodh Verma in the medical journal Circulation says: “Alcohol intake from any type of alcoholic beverage appears to be beneficial, but some studies suggest that red wine confers additional health benefits. The regular drinking of red wine has been suggested as the explanation for the ‘French paradox,’ the relatively low incidence of coronary atherosclerosis in France as compared with other Western countries, despite the generally high intake of saturated fat in the French diet.”

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You can read the rest of the article at [Nature]