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Italy. Research has uncovered what is hidden in ancient wine

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Italian scientists examined the contents of three amphorae from the time of the Roman Empire to see what wine production looked like in the first centuries of our era. As it turns out, Roman winemakers used local grapevines and secured the drink with fragrant pine tar.

Wine played a special role in ancient Rome. This drink accompanied the Romans in religious and social situations, and vineyards appeared in the farthest corners of the Empire. Scientists from the University of Rome La Sapienza examined three amphoras found in the Mediterranean Sea to see what the production process of this drink looked like hundreds of years ago.

Amphorae from San Felice Circeo, which contained the remnants of wineChassouant et al. (2022) / PLOS ONE

Good vintage red wine

The amphoras were found in 2018 near the city of San Felice Circeo – in ancient times, it was the site of an important port. According to archaeological research, the jars come from the period between the 2nd and 1st centuries BC. Although slightly damaged, there was a large amount of organic sediment inside.

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In the study, scientists looked at both the chemical composition of amphorae and archaeobotanic remains – pollen particles retained inside the remains. Thanks to the combination of gas chromatography and mass spectrometry, it was possible to separate and identify the sediment components.

The results showed that amphorae were used to transport red and white wine. Winemakers used grapevines naturally occurring around San Felice Circeo, but it is not known whether the grapes came from wild crops or from vineyards.

Ancient vine cells under the microscopeChassouant el al. (2002) / PLOS ONE

Trade between provinces

The analysis of the remaining organic matter also provided researchers with a lot of information. It turned out that the amphorae were secured with a mixture of tar and wine, which sealed them during transport. Pine tar was used here, probably from Calabria or Sicily. This proves the intense trade that took place then in the Apennine Peninsula. It is also possible that pine was added to the wine itself to improve its taste.

The authors point out that the use of several analytical methods has resulted in a better understanding of ancient winemaking practices than would have been possible with a single study. The team hopes that this method will help archaeologists better understand the lives and practices of those who came before us.

Chassouant et al (2022), Science Alert

Main photo source: Shutterstock

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