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But was it plonk?

Posted by Stephen Meuse  January 13, 2011 11:18 AM

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Vinifera ancient distribution.Map.gifThe earliest known winery has been discovered in an Armenian cave complex. An international team investigating the site has identified a treading platform for crushing grapes, a vat for storing wine, a drinking cup and bowls believed to be more than 6000 years old.

The find isn't the earliest evidence of grape wine ever found -- Dr. Patrick McGovern of the University of Pennsylvania found chemical evidence of grape wine at Hajii Firuz Tepe in what is now Iran which he believes dates from 7400 B.C.E.

Still, the find is significant because it is the earliest example uncovered to date of a grape wine production facility.

Caves in which the winery was unearthed indicate they may have been used for ceremonial purposes (graves were found nearby), confirming that wine was conceived of as a ritual beverage from earliest times. The area described in the map above, roughly comprising what are today eastern Turkey, Georgia, Armenia and northern Iran is known to have been the birthplace of vitis vinifera, the wine-giving vine.

"People obviously were stomping the grapes with their feet, just the way it was done all over the Mediterranean and the way it was originally done in California," Gregory Areshian, co-director of the excavation and assistant director of UCLA's Cotsen Institute of Archaeology said.

This story in The Wall Street Journal comes with a slideshow. For more robust reporting on the discovery see Science Daily's "Chemical Analysis Confirms Discovery of Oldest Wine-Making Equipment Ever Found."

To learn more about ancient wine and winemaking see Patrick McGovern's book Ancient Wine: The Search for the Origins of Viniculture . Dr. McGovern was not a participant in the discovery of the Armenian cave winery.

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Sheryl Julian, the Globe's Food Editor, writes regularly for the Food section.

Devra First is the Globe's food reporter and restaurant critic. Her reviews appear weekly in the Food section.

Ellen Bhang reviews Cheap Eats restaurants for the Globe and writes about wine.

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