The First Winemakers? 8,000-Year-Old Wine Discovered in Georgia

Ceramic jars contained the earliest known traces of fermented grapes.

By Ethan L. Johns
November 14, 2017

Image: Judyta Olszewski

What did wine from 6,000 B.C. taste like? Up until this week, this would have been a trick question; accepted findings dated the oldest known sample of grape-based wine to somewhere from 5,000 to as far back as 5,400 B.C. We don’t know about flavor profiles, but we do know that it’s time for a rewrite of the world’s enology textbooks.

According to a study published on Monday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers have discovered ceramic jars in the Republic of Georgia that contain signature chemical traces of wine dating to 6,000 B.C.—600 to 1,000 years before the previously accepted date. Simply put, they discovered the oldest known wine in the world.

These findings come out of the Gadachrili Gora Regional Archaeological Project Expedition (coincidentally, GRAPE), a joint project between the University of Toronto and the Georgian National Museum, which is studying Neolithic sites south of the country’s capital of Tbilisi.

The ceramics in question contained traces of tartaric acid—a signature compound in wine and grapes—in addition to malic, succinic and citric acids. Patrick McGovern, the study’s lead author, told the New York Times that these four acids are only found in wine made from grapes, which differentiates it from the world’s oldest known fermented beverage (a Chinese mix of rice and honey, also discovered by McGovern).

But the existence of wine residue, when coupled with other archaeological indicates more than a Neolithic Georgian love of wine.

"We believe this is the oldest example of the domestication of a wild-growing Eurasian grapevine solely for the production of wine," Stephen Batiuk, a co-author of the study, told ScienceDaily. "Our research suggests that one of the primary adaptations of the Neolithic way of life as it spread to Caucasia was viniculture. [...] The domestication of the grape apparently led eventually led to the emergence of a wine culture in the region."

We may never be able to taste an 8,000-year-old wine, but the Georgian tradition of pot-fermenting grapes for wine is protected by UNESCO as Intangible Cultural Heritage, so you can try modern vintages of Neolithic wines, whenever you want.

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About Ethan L. Johns

Ethan is the Food News Writer at Genius Kitchen. An expert on the Parisian bistrot, he likes bitters and salted butters, and is no fan of dessert unless it's made with fruit. His hobbies include reading up on the history of borscht and attempting to roll perfect couscous by hand. Twits & Instagram @EthanLJohns