It is difficult to grasp that one wild grape vine, vinis vinifera, evolved over millions of years into what are now some 10,000 grape varietals, including the California chardonnay or Argentine Malbec that you're enjoying right ... this ... minute.
The grape's story is central to the Bible and some of the details of its ancient beginnings will baffle you, including these five fascinating facts from "Divine Vintage: Following the Wine Trail from Genesis to the Modern Age" (Palgrave; $26) by Randall Haskett and Joel Butler. The book comes out Nov. 13.
--In 2011 the earliest winemaking facility was discovered in southern Armenia. An excavation at the 6,000-year-old site revealed a fermenting vat, the remains of a drinking cup made from animal horn, storage jars, dried grapes, seeds, and the presence of malvidin, a compound that gives red wine its color.
--According to the authors' translations, it is possible that the Israelites, long before Dom Perignon in Champagne, created sparkling wine, this one red, and difficult to control and recreate: "For a cup is in the hands of the Lord, and the wine foams" (Psalm 75:8).
--People assume that ancient wine was red. But new research from Egyptian tombs suggest that white wine was introduced as early as the mid-second millennium BCE.
--The first wine reviews go back to the second century CE, when Athenaeus describes a white wine from near Lake Mareotis (modern-day Egypt) that appears to be dry: "Excellent, white, fragrant, pleasant, easily assimilated, thin, not likely to go to the head, and diuretic."
--The ancients had a taste for well-aged wines. Thirty-year-old wines were placed in King Tut's tomb to be enjoyed in the afterlife.
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