Researchers Discover Italy’s Oldest Wine in Sicilian Cave

Residue from pots found in a Sicilian cave show grape wine was produced 3,000 years earlier than thought

Wine Jars
6,000-year-old wine storage jars found in a Sicilian cave. Dr. Davide Tanasi, University of South Florida

Barolo, Barbaresco, Brunello—Italian wines are some of the best in the world. And there’s a reason for that: They've been making it for thousands of years. Now, a new find suggests they've been at it even longer than people thought. As Lorenzo Tondo at The Guardian reports, researchers have found traces of 6,000-year-old wine in a Sicilian cave. Although it's not the oldest in the world, the latest find has pushed back the date wine production on the Italian Peninsula by thousands of years.

As Tondo reports, researchers took samples of organic residues from five copper storage jars found in a cave  on Monte Kronio on Sicily’s southwest coast. The jars, discovered in 2012, were dated to the fourth millennium, B.C. During analysis, researchers found tartaric acid and its salt, which develops naturally during the fermentation of grapes. Those molecules are strong signs the jars were used in winemaking.

According to a press release, previous analysis of ancient grape seeds suggested that wine production in Italy did not start until 1300 to 1100 B.C. This new find pushes the timeline back around three thousand years. The researchers published their results in Microchemical Journal.

Previously, the oldest known wine production center was found in an Armenian cave near the village of Areni. Archaeologists found jars and a large vat where it’s believed people pressed wine the old- fashioned way: by stomping on the fruit. Chemical tests of residue from that site showed the presence of malvidin, a pigment that gives wine its red color. But Malvidin is also produced by pomegranates, which are grown in the region. And since they didn't detect tartaric acid in these pots, it was impossible for the researchers to rule out the possibility other fruits could account for the chemical signatures.

Davide Tanasi of the University of South Florida who ran the chemical analysis of this latest residue tells Zamira Rahim at CNN that the jars of wine left in the cave may have been an offering to the gods. “The cave site of Monte Kronio is also a cult place used for religious practices from prehistory to Classical times,” he says. “This discovery has important archaeological and historical implications.” reports that prior to this discovery, the oldest known wine residue in Italy was found in a 3,000-year-old wine press discovered in the 1990s in Sardinia. While the Sicilian find is the oldest in Italy, it’s likely not the first site where wine was ever produced. Nine-thousand-year-old traces of a wine made of honey and rice were found in China and 7,400-year-old traces of grape wine were discovered in Iran’s Zagros mountains, Brendan Borrell at Scientific American reported in 2009.

Even if it’s not the world’s oldest, the find does come with bragging rights in Europe. The oldest evidence of French winemaking is a press discovered in 2013 that only dates to 425 B.C., making them relative newcomers to the wine world.

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