Wine's true origins have finally been revealed after thousands of years
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Wine’s true origins have finally been revealed after thousands of years, following a new study.
We know that wine has been around for a long time, having been the tipple of choice for everyone from banqueting Romans through to 'Iron Chancellor’ Otto von Bismarck – who was rumoured to knock some back with every meal, including breakfast.
But while we know it’s got a long-established fanbase, little has been known about some specific aspects of the drink’s origins.
A recent study has revealed more about the geographic and genetic journeys that brought grapes to certain terroirs after a large team of international researchers analyzed 2,503 unique vines from domesticated table and wine grapes and 1,022 wild grapevines.
The research was published earlier this year in the journal Science, but is now being explored in further detail as part of the October issue of Scientific American.
“We elucidate grapevine evolution and domestication histories with 3525 cultivated and wild accessions worldwide,” the authors wrote in their abstract.
“In the Pleistocene, harsh climate drove the separation of wild grape ecotypes caused by continuous habitat fragmentation. Then, domestication occurred concurrently about 11,000 years ago in Western Asia and the Caucasus to yield table and wine grapevines.
“The Western Asia domesticates dispersed into Europe with early farmers, introgressed with ancient wild western ecotypes, and subsequently diversified along human migration trails into muscat and unique western wine grape ancestries by the late Neolithic.
“Analyses of domestication traits also reveal new insights into selection for berry palatability, hermaphroditism, muscat flavor, and berry skin color. These data demonstrate the role of the grapevines in the early inception of agriculture across Eurasia.”
Genetic studies into finding out where vines originated thousands of years back only began around 10 to 15 years ago, with many suggesting that wild grapes grew in central Asia and dispersed westward as early human started to migrate in that direction.
However, Wei Chen, a senior research scientist at Yunnan Agricultural University in China and one of the study's leaders, told Scientific American that the recent findings correct this story.
Researchers also previously thought humans domesticated grapevines from wild progenitors as long as 8,000 years ago spread across western Asia and Europe, with some experts believing vines were first cultivated in Iberia around 3,000 years ago while others thought it happened in Caucasus.
“The recent study settles this debate: humans in western Asia domesticated table grapes around 11,000 years ago,” Scientific American explains.
“Other people, in the Caucasus, domesticated wine grapes around the same time - although they probably didn't master winemaking for another 2,000 or 3,000 years.”
As for why those in Caucasus who already had the grapes didn’t bring them over to Europe, Chen said: “We just don’t know yet.”
Once farmers started cultivating wine grapes in Europe, they developed a number of the varieties we know and love today.
However, it’s practically impossible to trace a current variety back to western Asia or the Caucasus, as grape growers have crossbred table and wine grapes, and domesticated and wild grapes, over the years – with some even back-breeding offspring with parents.
Chen added: “Once they had a superior vine, they usually destroyed the prior vines,” showing just how hard it is to get a full picture of the family tree.