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Study: French Wine was first produced in Italy

Posted: Tuesday, 04 June 2013 17:56

Study: French Wine was first produced in Italy

June 04: The French may have the reputation for being expert wine makers, but they learnt everything they know from the Italians, new research suggests as the chemical analysis of two large amphorae show they were imported from an old civilization north of Rome

Italy may have something to cheer about! After they defeated France in the FIFA World Cup in 2006 in a penalty shoot-out, this must be their moment of glory, at least in the wine making and drinking world as they learn that France imported its wines from the Etruscan merchants from Italy before starting to make their own, as early as 525 BC.

The researchers from Pennsylvania have discovered evidence that the amphorae - big pots with handles on both sides, used mainly but not only, to transport wine, olive oil and other products in the early period of history- found on the site of the ancient French Port of Lattara, about 125 kms west of Marseilles were used 2400 years ago to carry wines from Italy.

The Gauls were lured into the Mediterranean 'wine culture' later and began making their own around 425 BC, according to an article in the ‘Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences’. Winemaking started in the Middle East more than 8,000 years ago, spreading to Egypt by 3000 bc and then to Crete by 2200 bc. Greek and Phoenician merchants had begun shipping wine throughout the Mediterranean region about a thousand years later. The pots used for shipping were distinctively shaped jars called amphorae. By 600 bc, the Etruscans of central Italy were trading their wine along the French Mediterranean coast. This was around the time when wine-loving Greeks also established a colony at Marseilles (then called Massalia)

Using a host of modern chemical techniques, including mass and infrared spectrometry, the researchers analyzed residues inside the amphorae recovered from the Etruscan and Massaliote lots, retrieved from excavations in Lattara.

The team found tartaric acid which is found in grapes, present in all of the jars, strongly suggesting that they once contained wine. The analyses also revealed the characteristic fingerprints of pine resins and herbs such as rosemary and basil, which may have been added to infuse flavours or to give the wine medicinal properties.

"It’s the earliest evidence we have of winemaking by the Gauls,” says Patrick McGovern, a bio-molecular archaeologist at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, who led the study. Grape seeds and skins were also found scattered nearby. “The combination of botanical and chemical evidence makes a strong case and pretty tight argument” that wine was being produced at Lattara, says McGovern.

Michael Dietler is an archaeologist at the University of Chicago in Illinois. He has worked at the Lattara site and studied winemaking during this period. He says that the archaeologists already knew that the people of Massalia had been distributing local wine in their own amphorae since about 550 BC. This chemical analysis adds another line of evidence, which is helpful, but not revolutionary, he adds. Although no wine presses have been found at Massalia, he feels it is only a matter of time before one shows up.

Conceding that some amphorae could have held olive oil or fish paste, Dietler insists that the jars found at Lattera had typically been coated to help seal the ceramic. This indicates that they were used for carrying wine, since the sealant would have dissolved in oil and tainted its flavour. Oil amphorae generally had a very different shape, he adds.

The French are expected to have a mixed reaction though most people would brush the findings aside as one of those historical studies not related to the modern day wine production. As one of the readers comments in the Daily Mail, ‘total rubbish. There are lots of different regions in France and each region has thousands of different wine with very different taste. So to start comparing wine you should start from a chateau to another. Not even country to country.’

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Tags: amphorae, Italy, France, Lattara, Michael Dietler, Massalia


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