Italy TravelOldest Evidence of Winemaking Found in Sicily

Oldest Evidence of Winemaking Found in Sicily
Published on Tuesday, October 3, 2017 by

The oldest known evidence of a wine production center, now confirmed to be 6,000 years old, has been found in a cave in Sicily by a group of researchers from the University of South Florida. The cave contained large terracotta jugs thought to be used as wine vessels. It proves that wine making existed in Italy three millennia before 1200 BC, which was previously believed to be when the practice was introduced to Italy.

“Unlike earlier discoveries that were limited to vines and so showed only that grapes were being grown, our work has resulted in the identification of a wine residue,” archaeologist Davide Tanasi, who led the research, told The Guardian. “That obviously involves not just the practice of viticulture but the production of actual wine – and during a much earlier period.”

The researchers found the jugs in 2012 in a limestone cave on Monte Kronio, in southwestern Sicily. They tested the organic residue at the bottom of the jugs, which were made during the Copper Age in the fourth millennium BC, to determine what the substance might be.

“We conducted chemical analysis on the ancient pottery and identified the presence of tartaric acid and its salt,” said Enrico Greco, a chemistry researcher at the University of Catania.

Tartaric acid, also known as cream of tartar, occurs naturally in grapes.

Wine has been made around the world for thousands of years. In China, traces of 9,700-year-old honey and rice wine have been discovered, and in Iran, researchers have found 7,400-year-old tartaric acid residue from grape wine.

In 2011, researchers in Armenia tested residue found in a wine production center thought to also be around 6,000 years old and thought to use the traditional method of stomping on the grapes – but did not find traces of tartaric acid. They did find traces of malvidin, a plant compound that is responsible for the red pigment in wine. However, since malvidin is found in both grapes and pomegranates, the researchers couldn’t rule out the possibility that the substance came from other fruit such as pomegranates – which are abundant in Armenia, but do not grow in Sicily.

Alessio Planeta, an Italian wine making expert and historian, told The Guardian, “before this, we used to [think] Sicily’s wine culture arrived with the island’s colonization by the ancient Greeks,” said Planeta.

By Kathy McCabe

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