Beer Is Made By Men, Wine By God

By Steven Zunich

As a writer, I am challenged to author articles that require a lot of research and, more often than not, I acquire a treasure trove of information that makes my work an absolute pleasure to share. The topic of wine, in general, has been very well received by our readers and provides endless learning opportunities due to its vast history. The entrepreneurs we have encountered that drive the wine industry are nothing short of inspiring. Here are a few highlights covering this topic.  

Our first foray into the wide world of wine began in September 2020 with an exclusive   interview with Abacela vineyards on an article titled “Timber to Tempranillo”. The article and video content covers, in part, the vineyard’s wines which are grown right in the center of the heart of the Oregon Valley bordering the Umpqua river, a region known as “logging” country. This piece by Noelle Lovern was reprinted in the Northwest Wine Specator.  

More recently UrbanLink Managize launched our docuseries FIGURES Podcast, an audiovisual experience. Two of our first six episodes highlight wine entrepreneurs from different parts of the country. Our first wine related guest, Dario Satui of V. Sattui winery, discusses his inspiration and journey behind building an authentic thirteenth century castle at the winery known as Castello Di Amorosa. And, just this week, FIGURES podcast host Chris Jones visits with Idaho entrepreneurs Trae and Johnna Buchert, who own and operate Dude DeWalt Cellars in the rugged foothills outside of Boise Idaho.  

Now that we have provided context as to our interest in wine beyond the dinner table, we would like to take you on a viticultural journey to learn more about the history of wine. In doing the preliminary research on this article, I have come to realize that not only is wine an integral part of our current lives and our culture, delving into the history of wine making can be a lot of fun. When we share wine with our friends, we can imagine our ancestors doing the same thing centuries ago.  

So where did it all begin? As I poured myself a glass of Pinot Noir, my best guess off the top of my head was the Bordeaux region of France. WRONG! It turns out that while the Bordeaux region of France does have a long history of winemaking, which dates back to about 60 B.C. when the Romans are credited with planting the first vineyards there, the history of wine goes back way beyond this era. By the time I started my second glass of wine, I had uncovered that wine’s history was traced back even further to 6,000 B.C.. Not to Bordeaux but to the West Asian region of the world we now know as Turkey, Armenia, and Georgia.   

Forensic evidence in the region has found organic grape residue in ancient pottery dating back to the 6000 B.C. date. A winery was discovered in caves in what is now known as Armenia dating back to 4,100 B.C. A village near this site still uses what has been determined to be an ancient grape (identified by grape geneticists) called Areni. Wine is still made using these grapes in this region to this day.  

To understand a little more about the varieties of grapes more commonly used today, let’s compare what we know about some of these ancient varietals with their current, and more familiar, counterparts. The flavor of a wine can be manipulated by winemakers depending on how long a wine is aged, which grapes are chosen to blend with the main varietal, as well as the type of barrels used to age the wine (oak is very common, for example). The aromas and flavors to be discussed below are based on a neutral, pre-aged status. Most of these ancient varietals are still made into wines to this day, usually in limited quantities within the regions of their origin. So, pour yourself a glass of your favorite varietal and let’s check out a bit of ancient history of the Vitis Vinifera, the grape vine native to the Mediterranean region of the world from which all our grapes descend. 

Armenian Ancient Varietal Modern Equivalent 
The ARENI Pinot Noir 
The Areni grape is the signature red grape of Armenia’s ancient varietals. In fact, the grape is named after the town of Areni, which still exists today. Areni grapes produce flavors that hint of herbs and spices as well as sour cherries and grassy
 Areni grapes are similar to today’s very popular Pinot Noir. Pinot Noir’s bass note flavors are very much akin to descriptors of the Areni, but with the addition of berries, roses and cola flavors. Pinot Noir pairs well with many types of foods from salmon and pork to quail and pheasant.   
Georgian Ancient Varietal Modern Equivalent 
Rkatsiteli (“rah-kats-ee-te-lee”) Chardonnay 
The Rkatsiteli is a very resilient grape that can be made in a variety of ways. The ancient, traditional way to make this wine is in a qvevri clay pot, where it is aged under the ground. When made this way, the wine is well-balanced, medium bodied, with a creamy/buttery flavor that is often found in oak barrel-aged Chardonnays made in California.   Chardonnay grapes feature intense apple, melon, fig and grapefruit flavors but, again, winemakers like to use a variety of methods to influence the final product that comes out of the bottle. Chardonnay wines tend to pair well with, chicken, fish, seafood, and other light fare.  
Georgian Ancient Varietal Modern Equivalent 
Saperavi (“sah-per-ra-vee”) Petite Syrah 
The Saperavi is a dark-skinned red grape that produces wines with a deep red color. The closest equivalent to the saperavi grape is the modern Petite Syrah, which produces characteristics of black cherry, licorice, roasted nut, chocolate, and pepper flavors.  A Petite Syrah is recommended as a compliment to hearty dishes like steak, lamb, and pasta with marinara sauces. Both the Saperavi and Petite Syrah feature smoother, not overly bitter tannins, so they are considered by experts as “easy” to drink.  
Turkish Ancient Varietal Modern Equivalent 
Emir (“eh-meer”) Pinot Grigio 
The emir grape name means “lord/ruler” and centuries ago was considered the wine of royalty and the upper classes. Flavors of apple, pear, pineapple, orange and melon come through and is  comparable to today’s Pinot Grigio.  Pinot Grigio is wonderful by itself as a cocktail or after dinner wine. It goes very well with baked fish or chicken, as well as with Asian or Indian dishes. Pinot Grigio is the Italian version of the French Pinot Gris but they are the same grape.  
Turkish Ancient Varietal Modern Equivalent 
Bogazkere (“bow-ahz-keh-reh”)  Cabernet Sauvignon 
This ancient native southeastern Turkey grape has a high tannin and medium to high acidic component which may be why its name translates to “throat burner.” The modern equivalent of this highly tannic wine would probably be the very popular Cabernet Sauvignon red wine we are all familiar with.  As varietals, wines made with the Cabernet Sauvignon grape give off notes of dark berry, pepper, dark chocolate, clove, tobacco and licorice. While the pepper, clove and licorice notes don’t literally burn the throat, it can feel like a harsh pour for those with a preference for sweeter wines.  The great news is that the strong tannins in Cabernet Sauvignon make wines made from these grapes pair very well with rich cheeses, game dishes like deer or rabbit, as well as with steak, the classic dish to enjoy with a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon.    

Knowing a little about the ancient history of wine may or may not make your next glass of wine taste better. Then again, maybe it will. A tour of the wine country between the Caucasus mountains and the Euphrates River might be a fun trip to explore one day. Or you can head to Bordeaux, France or the Napa Valley in California to experience the more well-known wines of our time.  

One great feature of wine is experiencing pairings with food, but it can certainly be savored by itself for its own flavors and aromas. Knowing a bit more about wine’s ancient history really does make sitting down with your next glass of wine a bit more romantic, mysterious, and magical, especially after that second glass of Pinot Noir. Cheers to that! 

*  Martin Luther, German Theologian and catalyst of the Protestant Reformation. 

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Name: Chris Jones

Organization: UrbanLink Media

Phone: 1-855-730-5465

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