“To take wine into our mouths is to savor a droplet of the river of human history.”
~New York Times, 1967
May 25th is National Wine Day.
With 10,000 varieties of wine grapes around the world, wine has almost infinite flavors and textures depending on the grape and where it was grown.
In a way, every bottle of wine tells a story because it is a reflection of the country and the customs in which it was cultivated.
To celebrate National Wine Day, let’s find out more about the history of wine as well as examine its health benefits and risks.
Wine and Man: A Long History Together
Wine has played an important role in the history of humanity; it can be traced as far back as 6000 BC (Georgia), 5000 BC (Iran), 4000 BC (Sicily), and possibly 7000 BC (China).
The oldest bottle of wine dates to 325 AD. It was discovered in 1867 in Speyer, Germany when workers were excavating Roman ruins.
Wine was an important part of Greek commerce, and Greek doctors, including Hippocrates, prescribed it because of its healing properties. Even Homer’s poems the Iliad and the Odyssey contain detailed descriptions of wine.
The Romans also made major contributions to winemaking. They classified grape varieties and colors, identified soil-type preferences, and charted ripening characteristics of various grapes in different settings. They may have even been the first to use glass bottles to store wine.
By the first century AD, wine was being exported in barrels from Italy to other parts of Europe including Spain, Germany, England, and France. Soon these countries began developing their own vineyards. France emerged and ultimately dominated for centuries as a leader in the world wine market.
During the 1500s and 1600s, exploration and settlement brought wine to places like Mexico, Argentina, and South Africa.
In the United States, repeated attempts to plant European wine vines on the east and southern coasts met with failure.
However, California had better luck. In 1789, Franciscan missionary Father Junipero Serra planted the first California vineyard at the Mission in San Diego. He created eight more missions and vineyards, and is considered to be the “Father of California Wine.”
Fun Facts About Wine
Here are some interesting facts about wine:
- The Ancient Greeks would drink to each other’s health, and Ulysses drinks to the health of Achilles in the Odyssey.
- Oenophobia is the fear of wines.
- Anthocyanin, found in the skin of red grapes, is responsible for the color of red wine which becomes lighter as wine ages.
- Red grapes can also be made into white wine.
- Wine glasses are held by the stem so that the hand does not raise the temperature of the wine.
- Italy was the top producer of wine in 2017, followed by France, Spain, the US, and Australia.
Is Wine Plant-Based?
One of the questions I get asked frequently is if wine is plant-based.
On the surface, you might think the answer is a categorical ‘yes.’ Wine is made by fermenting grapes while yeasts (either natural or cultured) convert the grape juice sugars into alcohol.
But there is a catch.
In reality, even if a wine is certified ‘organic,’ it can still contain animal-based ingredients.
This is because of the wine fining process. Young wine is cloudy, containing floating particles of proteins, tartrates, and tannins. Over time, most wines self-stabilize and become clear, but frequently producers help the stabilization process along by using fining agents, which remove the offending particles.
The problem is that fining agents are typically animal-based, including casein (a milk protein), albumin (egg whites), gelatin (animal protein) and isinglass (fish bladder protein).
Some methods can be used in lieu of the above animal-based products. For example, clay-based fining agents like bentonite are a plant-based way to fine out unwanted particles.
However, it is often difficult to know if a wine is truly plant-based since companies are not required to reveal the process they use to produce their wine.
The best way to find out if the wine you are drinking is truly plant-based is to ask the winemaker.
Is Wine Healthful?
The big question is whether or not wine is healthful to drink.
In the past, various studies have tried to show that moderate amounts of all types of alcohol (including wine) might benefit cardiovascular health by reducing the formation of blood clots, preventing arterial damage caused by high levels of LDL cholesterol, and improving the function of the cell layers that line your blood vessels (endothelium).
However, many of these conclusions have come under serious scrutiny, with experts now questioning the accuracy of these studies.
Recent research seems to demonstrate that the cardioprotective properties of wine actually come from the grape itself rather than the wine’s alcohol, suggesting that you can drink a dealcoholized version of wine and get the same benefit.
So moderation is key.
According to the American Cancer Society, moderation is defined as one 5-ounce glass of wine a day for women and two 5-ounce glasses for men.
To celebrate National Wine Day in style, how about trying a new wine drink?
Here is Chef Daniel Biron’s recipe for Clericot that is bursting with fruit flavor and will wow your guests with its elegant presentation.