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Ancient Wine, The Search for the Origins of Viniculture  - Patrick E. McGovern
Princeton University Press, 2003
Review by David Farmer

We do not know when humans first began to enjoy fermented wine beverages. Ancient Wine traces the origin of the deliberate making of alcohol back to the early Neolithic, about 7000 years ago. A seasonal or occasional drinking of alcoholic beverages probably goes back much further as many fruits collected in a container would ferment naturally. The current warm cycle of the ice age commenced about 10,000 years ago and this also marked a change, in a region of the Middle East, when humans turned from nomadic hunter gatherers to the first permanent settlements based around the cultivation of cereal crops. It is suggested that the earliest permanent settlements began in Eastern Turkey in the headwaters of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers.

This book argues fairly convincingly that this set the scene for skills to develop which allowed for the methodical fermentation of fruits, particularly grapes. With time the transition from harvesting fruit from wild vines to cultivated vines occurred. Domestication of the vine may have first started in the eastern Taurus Mountains of Transcaucasia or the Caucasus Mountains. It was then taken to other areas for cultivation.

The wild grape vine has a wide distribution across the northern edge of the Mediterranean, around the Black Sea and over the Taurus and Caucasus Mountains to the Caspian Sea. It may have been more widespread 10,000 years ago. The wild vine is Vitis Vinifera sub species sylvestris and the domesticated vine is Vitis Vinifera sub species vinifera. The domestic and the wild vine would have continued to interbreed, no doubt contributing to the thousands of grape varieties now recognised.

If you take a keen interest in wine and alcoholic beverages it is natural to reflect upon the history of wine. The references to wine in classical texts, the range of drinking vessels and wall frescos that have been preserved with wine related themes is so common it is apparent that earlier civilisations took a very keen interest in wine and related beverages. There is quite a rich literature on the history of wine with the most recent best seller being The Story of Wine by Hugh Johnson (1989). These books discuss what is known from early beginnings to the present.

Ancient Wine covers the period from about 8000 years ago to 700BC, a vast sweep of time that is poorly covered by all other books. The author shows great knowledge and wine drinkers can be thankful that his attention over the last decade has switched to unravelling the origins of fermented beverages.

As this book makes very clear, the discovery of ethyl alcohol was of immense significance to humans. Resinated wine was being made in the highlands of north western Iran as early as 5400BC. Also this important work strips away any illusions we may have that the early Anatolian and Caucasian societies which embraced wine drinking were basic societies as the descriptions of complex eating and drinking rituals detail a rich and varied life.

On a number of occasions the drinking of wine and other alcoholic beverages came to be the centre around which much of the social activity of the community revolved. The Hittite empire of Anatolia which flourished between 1600 and 1200 B.C. and the complex rituals and festivals of the grand Egyptian civilisations that revolved around wine grown on the Nile delta are examples. The discovery of a wide range of ornate and elaborate drinking cups and serving jugs is strong proof of the central focus of drinking.

The trade in wine was also on a vast scale with immense amounts of wine being moved between regions. We know much about this because of two smart bits of chemical analysis that have been pioneered by the laboratory that the author heads.

Analysis of residue left in storage and transport vessels, mostly amphora of various sizes, shows that many and probably the majority were used to transport and store wine. Similar analysis at archaeological sites confirms numerous 'wineries' and wine storage buildings. The other analysis examines the chemical make up of the clay pots and amphora and how this can be connected to the clay pits from which the clay was taken to make the pottery vessels. In other words the centres of pottery making can be pin pointed and this can be correlated with pottery shards and piles of broken amphora found in ancient rubbish tips that can be hundreds or thousands of kilometres from the production site.

Another aspect is the detail about how wine was made and handled and how it was often the base for a great range of other beverages. The variety of what was in the drinks cabinet comes as a great surprise. Wine was commonly mixed with beer, honey, herbs, fruits and spices and again this is confirmed by chemical analysis. Other beverages were made from grapes fermented with dates and figs and often wine acted as the starting beverage with wheat and barley, honey and raisins and even olive oil, being added later.

A popular beverage from 1600-1480 BC was known as Greek grog and was a combination of resinated wine, barley beer and honey mead and later another version was produced in Anatolia from 1400-1130 BC and contained herbs, spices, wine, milk, honey, oil and water.

The handling and preservation of the new vintage wine, which is fragile without the knowledge of fermentation and oxidation let alone the other myriad problems that can make a wine go sour, was a highly developed skill. Use was made of the same preservatives that helped the healing of wounds and the makers of wine quickly learnt the benefit of adding tree resin to wine to slow oxidation. Resin leaves a chemical trace in the storage container. Resin from the terebinth tree which is related to the pistachio seems to be present in most analysis. This resin is not offensive in taste and smell and handily is exuded from the tree at about the same time as the grapes are picked. Also resins have bactericidal properties, which impede the proliferation of acetic acid bacteria and other micro-organisms.

Many of the clay pots used for wine storage had well fitted stoppers and were laid on their sides so these early winemakers were well advanced in knowing how to preserve wine. Egyptian amphora had clay packed over the top and neck as extra sealing and often a small hole was made in the stopper to allow the escape of gases from secondary fermentation. At other times the amphora were stoppered with reeds and grasses or chaff which permitted the escape of fermentation gases and when this finished a seal would be made with clay.

And the serving and enjoyment of the wine or wine based beverage was at times elaborate. Examples are amphoras that have a small hole drilled just above the sediment line which was used to tap the wine and so leave the wine lees behind. In Egypt by 3100 BC to 2700 BC there had developed an advanced cultivation of grapes and winemaking which involved the recognition of winemakers and even today’s equivalent of sommeliers and managers of the wine at the royal residences. The names of the winemakers and the origin of the grapes were often pressed as a seal into the amphora.

The scale of the wine trade and its often central role in many early civilisations comes as a surprise as does the range and obvious quality of the wine and flavoured beverages. Over thousands of vintages a lot was learnt about keeping the wine drinkable and those in charge of this operation were highly prized.

This book gives hope that in the future many new regions that are favourable for grape growing can again thrive across the vast sweep of Asia Minor along the Himalayas and into China. Another book read recently suggests that Georgia alone has 500 different grape varieties and who knows what riches await us when some of these countries are able to develop a modern wine industry.

Intriguingly the deliberate making of alcoholic beverages from grapes occurred in China about the same time as in the region between the Mediterranean and Caspian Sea and the suggestion has to be made that there may have been a trading of information between the two regions. Also the Vinifera species in China are different to the current cultivated European species and this offers the possibility of exciting new tastes if the Chinese embrace wine over the next few decades.


Ten Company Histories and Biographies of Our Wine Pioneers  - *(see note for details)

Review by David Farmer

In the wine business 50 years is too short for reflection while one hundred years spans several generations and covers a wide variety of trading conditions. Companies that are still family owned and trading after 100 years are the rare survivors and it was at this point that most of them commissioned a company history. Many great contributors to the Australian wine history, and to single out one, Alexander Kelly's Tintara, did not survive for long and we know little about them. more...


Bouquet  - G. B. Stern
Alfred A Knoff, New York, Second printing, 1928 (First published June, 1927)
Review by David Farmer

I cannot recall how I got to know about Bouquet. I purchased a copy from a dealer on Amazon for $30.00. I read books like this to gain a better idea of how wine was thought about prior to say 1950-1960, before it exploded in popularity in the English speaking countries and turned perhaps a simpler pleasure into the scientifically studied beverage of today. more...


The House of Mondavi  - Julia Flynn Siler
Gotham Books, June 2007
Review by David Farmer

To build two large businesses in a lifetime is quite a feat but to do it in the wine business where it can take generations to become established requires outstanding talent. more...


What Can You Learn from Seven Centuries of Trade.
Sherry
 - Julian Jeffs
Faber and Faber Limited, London. First Edition, 1961. A revised second edition was published in 1970.
Review by David Farmer

Why would you want to read a book on an unfashionable drink like sherry? What would I find coming back to a book I first read in the mid 1970's? At the time of release it was much praised and subsequent editions came out in 1970 and 1978. more...


Notes on a Cellar Book  - George Saintsbury
Published in 1920 with numerous reprints. Reissued 1978 (Macmillan)
Review by David Farmer

This short book had an enormous impact on wine writing after publication in 1920 and was quoted extensively for the next two decades and was still referred to by wine writers in the 1960's. It may be seen as a forerunner of later books that taught you how to enjoy wine by personal reminiscing about wines and in this way guided readers through the maze of wine types and wine lore. more...


The Heartbreak Grape, A Journey in Search of the Perfect Pinot Noir  - Marq de Villiers
Harper Collins, 1993, Toronto, Canada
Review by David Farmer

Pinotphiles is the name given to consumers who are dedicated to the mysteries and flavour of pinot noir. No other grape variety has such a band of promoters and to satisfy their needs a dozen or so ‘pinot celebrations’ are held every few years in the old and newly emerging pinot regions. more...


The Romance of Wine  - H. Warner Allen
Ernest Benn Limited, London, 1931
Review by David Farmer

'When the Portuguese are really enjoying themselves, they sing and dance to a noise resembling that of a heavy bombardment, and in a festival in the mountains at Amarante I was completely deafened by the unceasing roar of about sixty sheepskin drums beaten furiously, broken by violent dynamite explosions.'

This is Warner Allen’s picture of the locals in the Douro region who enjoy letting off rockets with sticks of dynamite attached when celebrating. Any book that discovered a tradition like that has something interesting to say. more...


In Search of Wine, A tour of the Vineyards of France  - Charles Walter Berry
Constable and Company, 1935. Republished in 1987 by Sidgwick and Jackson
Review by David Farmer

In late 1934 Charles Walter Berry undertook an eight week tour through the vineyards of France and In Search of Wine is the record of what is considered a ‘famous’ journey. In the introduction to the 1987 reprint by Jancis Robinson, she notes that, ‘Walter made wine trade history by venturing into the cellars of those who supplied him,…in order to understand better the product he was selling and to survey, in unparalleled depth for the time, the French vignoble.’ more...


Ancient Wine, The Search for the Origins of Viniculture  - Patrick E. McGovern
Princeton University Press, 2003
Review by David Farmer

We do not know when humans first began to enjoy fermented wine beverages. Ancient Wine traces the origin of the deliberate making of alcohol back to the early Neolithic, about 7000 years ago. A seasonal or occasional drinking of alcoholic beverages probably goes back much further as many fruits collected in a container would ferment naturally. The current warm cycle of the ice age commenced about 10,000 years ago and this also marked a change, in a region of the Middle East, when humans turned from nomadic hunter gatherers to the first permanent settlements based around the cultivation of cereal crops. It is suggested that the earliest permanent settlements began in Eastern Turkey in the headwaters of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. more...


In Praise of Wine  - Alec Waugh
1959, (Cassel)
Review by David Farmer

In Praise of Wine is a book of personal reminiscences about wine and follows the style of the educated amateurs who wrote before and immediately after the Second World War. This book though was published in 1959 and has crossed into an era in which wine books were beginning to contain detailed descriptions of wine regions and technical aspects of wine making, the forerunners of today’s large wine publishing industry. This in turn heralded the end of the amateur commentator. more...


Stay Me with Flagons  - Maurice Healy
Michael Joseph, 1949
Review by David Farmer

The English wine trade has given us many things, such as wine and food societies, a great depth of literature covering the descriptive and technical aspects of wine and wine regions, notably on French wine, a sophisticated wine auction system and more recently teaching schools such as the Masters of Wine. more...


The New France
A Complete Guide to Contemporary French Wine
 - Andrew Jefford
Mitchell Beazley 2002
Review by David Farmer

How strange to divide wine writers into a wine left or right. It will help you to enjoy the early chapters of this book if you have a soft left interpretation of the world wine industry, and enjoy railing against the globalisation of wine, the sameness of taste, the industrialisation of wine and a future driven by world wide brands. This book takes the proposition that the true way to make wine comes from those who bond with the ground, who work the vineyard night and day, break their backs, and by so doing achieve in almost a religious sense a bonding with the earth, the place and the wine produced. more...


You Heard It Through The Grapevine - Shattering the myths about the wine business  - Stuart Walton
Aurum Press, London, 2001
Review by David Farmer

There are a great many wine books written each year. The problem is that it is hard to come up with a new perspective to make a book stand out. The wine industry evolves slowly which means most books are derivative. In this case it would seem that the publishers asked for a book that reveals the hidden secrets of a business that some may see as being full of mystery, hence the sub title of this book. more...


The Classic Book on Cocktails
The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks
 - David Embury
the first edition was in America in 1948 and Faber and Faber published the first British edition in 1953
Review by David Farmer

Some books give you such pleasure that you always want them nearby. And in my adventures into drinks no book has impressed me as much or given me more pleasure than this masterpiece on the art of making cocktails.

There are dozens of books about making cocktails, rather like there are about food, but few are worth the cover price. None approach the quality of this classic book. more...


Terroir: The Role of Geology, Climate, and Culture in the Making of French Wines  - James Wilson
Mitchell Beazley 1998
Review by David Farmer

Any vineyard owner will tell you that certain areas of their vineyard make better tasting grapes than other areas. Why some areas of vineyards and vineyard districts deliver better grapes and hence better wine is the subject of terroir studies. The Europeans and particularly the French are very interested in this topic. They extend the meaning of the word which we can roughly say is the flavour effects that come from the vineyard location to include cultural ideas which unite man with the soil. more...


Penfolds-The Rewards of Patience  - Andrew Caillard M.W.
(Fifth Edition)
Review by David Farmer

In the simplest term this is a consumers guide to all the Penfolds red and white wines. The tasting notes cover wines made by Penfolds in the 1950's right through to the current releases. There are tasting notes for every wine, apart from the Rawsons Retreat wines, the Koonunga Hill whites and one or two others which I detect the winemakers wish they did not have to make under the Penfolds banner. Others wines such as the Penfolds Old Vine Semillon which were part of edition 4 have been dropped off. more...


Classification of Australian Wines  - Dan Murphy
Macmillan 1974
Review by David Farmer

I’m a bit of a collector of wine books and recently purchased a first edition signed by Dan Murphy and by the great Hunter vigneron Max Lake. It cost $20.00 from the Berkelouw bookstore on Oxford Street, Sydney, where I buy a lot of second-hand wine books. I first read this book in 1975. Back then it was seen as a bold attempt to classify Australian vineyards and wines in a hierarchical system similar to the French appellation classification. It was a very useful book. Thirty years on it acts as a timepiece and is worth reviewing to see how the wine industry has evolved. more...


Real Wine - The Rediscovery of Natural Winemaking  - Patrick Matthews
Mitchell Beazley 2000
Review by David Farmer

This is one of a number of wine books published over the last few years, mostly by English authors, which take the view that there is a correct way to make wine and this is only known and followed by a small number of dedicated winemakers. The core of the argument is that big company winemaking produces ‘industrial’ wines and these lack character, while true wine is made by the artisanal wine maker using tools and methods, often ancient, which reflect the unique character of the site. more...


Ten Company Histories and Biographies of Our Wine Pioneers  - *(see note for details)

Review by David Farmer

In the wine business 50 years is too short for reflection while one hundred years spans several generations and covers a wide variety of trading conditions. Companies that are still family owned and trading after 100 years are the rare survivors and it was at this point that most of them commissioned a company history. Many great contributors to the Australian wine history, and to single out one, Alexander Kelly's Tintara, did not survive for long and we know little about them. more...



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