It’s practically second nature to associate wine with France, but a team of researchers may have just discovered evidence to credit Italy for the world’s classiest alcoholic beverage instead. Terracotta jars bearing what has been revealed to be tartaric acid — the primary acid in grapes — have been found in a cave on Mount Kronio near Agrigento.
The jars and their contents have been perfectly preserved thanks to the cave, which is believed to have been a holy site where offerings were made to ancient gods. Researchers then studied the residue of the jars using several analysis techniques to make their ground-breaking discovery.
“We ruled out fatty residues from meat or oil, and as there were no traces of grape seeds or skins, we concluded it was from fermented grapes,” said Enrico Greco, a chemist at the University of Catania.
The next step was determining exactly how old the residue was, which the archaeologists did by comparing the pottery with vases from nearby sites. As it turned out, the fermented grapes date all the way back to the fourth millennium BC — some 3,000 years before the first traces of viticulture had previously been recorded in Italy.
The findings obviously indicate that the scientists have stumbled upon the oldest wine in the world, but they are reluctant to use the label just yet. “There have been discoveries from the same period in Armenia, but it seems to have been a drink produced from fermenting pomegranate, not grapes,” said Greco. “There are also older signs of rice fermentation in China.”