Monday, January 17, 2011

Wine: Any brie in the Copper Age?

From archaeology comes a discovery that should gladden the hearts of wine lovers planning to spend a few hours sipping reds, whites, and rosés next Saturday and Sunday at the Boston Wine Expo in the Seaport World Trade Center. Within a cave in Armenia a team of archaeologists has found the press, fermentation vats, grape stems, and storage jars of a winery 6,100 years old.

The archaeologists have no way of knowing how fruity or tannic those old wines were, but they can identify wine-making with the dawn of the Copper Age, when metal utensils were first replacing stone. The winemaker’s trade, as seen from a twenty-first century perspective, also represents the earliest form of biotechnology. In other words, viticulture is synonymous with civilization — a recognition that should hardly come as a surprise to those attending the Wine Expo.

In the judgment of the archaeologists who literally uncovered the wine-making apparatus in Armenia, the vintages produced there were for ritual uses, most likely in funerals, and smaller wineries elsewhere would have produced wine for recreational use.

This is no doubt a logical, scholarly conclusion. But if the Wine Expo’s 1,800 wines from around the world were suddenly smothered in volcanic ash, and all the accoutrements of wine tasting there were preserved for another 6,000 years, future archaeologists would probably infer that a ritual of great cultural significance was being held in the imposing structure near the Boston waterfront.

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