Red Wine History: How Much Do You Know?
Red wine history, and all wine history, can be traced back to the ancient Egyptians, a culture that cultivated grapes originally for food. It is assumed that at some point some of those grapes must have fermented, producing alcohol. The Egyptians probably then experimented with this alcohol and found that not only was it tasty like nothing else, it also had the side effect of making the imbiber happy and, ultimately, drunk! Though wild grapes grew all across the planet, it was the Vitis Vinifera grapes which the Egyptians used to make wine that spread to the Mediterranean region and eventually into all of Europe.
The ancient Romans, as you probably know, loved wine. The Romans loved to age their wine to perfection, sometimes aging certain wines for as long as 25 years. They were the first people to use ceramic jugs for just this purpose.
It was the Celts, however, the so-called barbarians, that were the first to use wooden oak barrels like the ones used nowadays to store wine. This was their stamp on red wine history. The “rounded-in-the-middle” design that you see on modern barrels was created by the Celts to make them easier to roll and move around. The oak used in the barrel design allowed the wine to “breathe” while still staying air-tight. This is what led to the modern-day presence of oak in many wines.
Following the fall of the Roman Empire, it was Christian monks that wholly took over the development of the wines of the European region. Ultimately, it was these cloistered monks who created much of the wine making traditions still practiced today.
Until the 1900s, fine wines were almost exclusively produced in Europe. Therefore, much of today’s wines have can have their origin traced back to Europe. When the New World was discovered in the 15th century, European explorers naturally brought the wine of their homeland with them. Some even brought vines with them so they could plant new crops of wine grapes! Even though the Europeans discovered that wild grapes flourished in the soil of the New World, they attempted to plant Vitis Vinifera – with very limited success. The only vines that grew with any amount of success in the New World were those imported to California by the Spanish. The dry, sunny almost-Mediterranean climate and loose soil of California was a perfect match for growing wine grapes and Spanish missions already dotted the California landscape, so it was a perfect match. Eventually, those Europeans that settled on the eastern coast of America made their own good wine by crossing native grapes with Vitis Vinifera.
As you can see, red wine history is a very intrinsic part of our history. Everywhere you look in history, wine was there. In many cases, we have to make certain assumptions about the specifics of wine, as much of its history was simply passed down by word of mouth, as it was such an integral part of the world in which these people lived that documents were never created to detail it.