According to Science, Italians Have Been Drinking Wine for Longer Than Thought

An Italian vineyard | © Francesco Sgroi/Flickr
An Italian vineyard | © Francesco Sgroi/Flickr
To Italians, good wine is one of life’s essential pleasures. They produce more than anyone else and bottles from renowned wine regions such as Tuscany and Emilia Romagna are considered among the world’s best – hardly surprising given that Italy has been fermenting grapes for millennia. The discovery of an ancient storage jar containing traces of 6000-year-old wine, however, means Italians have been drinking it for much longer than previously thought.

Scientists from the University of South Florida conducted a chemical analysis of residue on a large Copper Age storage jar found in a cave in Agrigento in Sicily. They discovered traces of tartaric acid, which naturally occurs in grapes, and its sodium salt, potassium bitartrate, which develops during the winemaking process.

Lab work © University of Michigan School for Environment/Flickr, Anphorae were used to store oil and wine in ancient Greece and Rome | © Carole Raddato/WikiCommons

The findings, published in Microchemical Journal, dramatically predate previous evidence of winemaking in Italy, making this the ‘earliest discovery of wine residue in the entire prehistory of the Italian peninsula’.

Prior to the analysis of this large storage jar (from the early 4th millennium BC), grape seeds found in Sardinia dating from 1300-1000 BC meant scientists believed wine production in Italy was a much more recent development. The discovery is made even more remarkable by the fact that such chemical analysis is only possible when the artifact is intact when excavated – it turns out ancient Italians were as careful as their modern counterparts when it comes to storing a choice vintage.

A great Italian wine © Michela Simoncini/Flickr

This 6000-year-old wine may be the oldest in Italy but the oldest wine in the world was found in jars in northeastern Iran, dating back to 5400 BC. While this is the earliest chemical evidence of winemaking, some scientists believe even Paleolithic humans had figured out that drinking naturally fermented grapes could be fun.

The scientists involved in the study of this ancient jar are now hoping to determine if the wine was red or white.