Only 13 jars met those standards. The researchers chose three representative amphoras for molecular testing, and also tested two later amphoras that almost certainly contained wine for comparison.
The analysis revealed tartaric acid, which is found naturally in grapes and is a major component of wine. Other wine-related acids - including succinic acid, malic acid and citric acid - were all present.
This ancient wine may not have had much in common with what might be found on a tasting trip to Napa or Sonoma, Calif., today. The researchers also found traces of pine resin, likely used for flavor and as a preservative. And the wine contained compounds from herbs, likely rosemary, basil and thyme.
Today, one Greek wine called retsina still uses pine resin for flavor, even though glass bottles have removed the need for it as a preservative.
"It's hard for a palate accustomed to Cabernet and Chardonnay to get accustomed to a wine that tastes like, well, turpentine," according to wineloverspage.com, which also describes retsina wine as "neither subtle nor delicate."
The beginnings of French wine Of course, ancient wines weren't just for recreational quaffing; they were also used as medicinal mixtures, McGovern said. More importantly, the limestone press contained traces of tartaric acid, revealing that the residents of Lattara not only imported wine, but also made it. The press was in use by about 425 B.C. to 400 B.C., making it the first known evidence of winemaking in what is now France.
The older amphoras, combined with the ancient press, suggest that residents of the area that is now southern France first imported wine and then started cultivation, probably with vines imported from Etruria. Shipwrecks from that region have been found with vine seedlings inside, according to the researchers.
"France's rise to world prominence in the wine culture has been well documented, especially since the 12th century, when the Cistercian monks determined by trial-and-error that Chardonnay and Pinot Noir were the best cultivars to grow in Burgundy," McGovern said. "What we haven't had is clear chemical evidence, combined with botanical and archaeological data, showing how wine was introduced into France and initiated a native industry."
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