Saturday, February 26, 2011

The oldest winery in the world

The oldest winery ever found is 6,100 years old. It was recently discovered inside a cave in Armenia, near the country's southern border with Iran. Archeologists were able to date the winemaking installation to approximately 4,100 BC. That's the Copper Age, a transitional period between the Stone Age and the Bronze Age. In the cave, they found winemaking equipment, including a rudimentary wine press, a clay vat probably used for fermentation, a cup and drinking bowl, as well as remains of pressed grapes and grape must. They found no device to actually crush the grapes so they think that people stomped the grapes with their feet. The installation was surrounded by graves, which suggests that the wine may have had a ceremonial role.

After examining the seeds, paleobotanists were able to identify the grapes as vitis vinifera vinifera, which indicates that the winegrape had already been domesticated at the time. This is an important milestone in Human Evolution.

“Deliberate fermentation of carbohydrates into alcohol has been suggested as a possible factor that prompted the domestication of wild plants and the development of ceramic technology,” said Hans Barnard, one of the archaeologists who teaches in the UCLA Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures.

Until now, the oldest wine production site was dated to around 3150 B.C. and was found in the tomb of Egyptian king Scorpion I.

You can read the whole article here, it's fascinating.

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Friday, February 11, 2011

Pouilly-Fuissé, fresh and mineral

A few weeks ago, Kobrand Corporation sent me a bottle of 2008 Pouilly-Fuissé Domaine J.A. Ferret.

The wine is 100% Chardonnay from a white wine appellation located in the Mâconnais in southern Burgundy. The region is best known for its wave-shaped hills above the Saône valley, rich in limestone mixed with clay, and particularly well-suited to the Chardonnay grape.

The 15 hectare Domaine J.A. Ferret lies at the heart of the appellation, in the village of Fuissé. Fonded in 1840, it was the first estate of the region to bottle its own wines. It also introduced the concepts of terroir delimitation and vinification of separate grape lots. Since 1993, it was owned and managed by Colette Ferret, the last in the family line. She died in 2007 and the estate was later sold to Maison Louis Jadot.

The 2008 Pouilly-Fuissé Domaine J.A. Ferret had a light golden color and a Chablis-like nose of crushed oyster shells and citrus. On the palate, it was medium-bodied, crisp, slightly creamy with a touch of oak, and a fresh, lemony finish.

It was a good accompaniment to the Sweet Potato, Mushroom and Spinach Gratin we had that evening, although I think it would have been even better with a fresh Dungeness Crab.

Our Sweet Potato, Mushroom and Spinach Gratin

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Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Do wine grapes need more sex?

In a recent study, Sean Myles, a researcher at Cornell University working on the genetics of grapes, reveals that 75 percent of our 583 kinds of cultivated grapes are either parents, children, or siblings of each other. A graph of grape family relationships shows that for instance, Sauvignon Blanc is a parent of Cabernet Sauvignon and is also related to Traminer, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Muscat. The reason for this interrelatedness? Very little sex for the last 8,000 years.

The reality is that wine consumers are deeply attached to these traditional grape varieties and so most vineyards are planted with clones to make sure that the qualities of these varieties are preserved. However, the lack of grape diversity is worrisome. Vines have low resistance to many diseases and pests and farmers have to spray their vineyards with large amounts of fungicidal chemicals to protect them.

“We can't just go on using the same cultivars for the next thousand years”, says Dr Myles. To tackle this issue, his team has produced genomic maps of more than 1,000 samples, which link the presence of genetic markers to traits such as acidity, sugar content, or disease resistance.

“If you know the genetic markers associated with these traits, you can plant them out as seedlings, look at its DNA as soon as you get the first leaf tissue, and say for example 'we'll keep these five because we know their genetic profiles are associated with the traits we're interested in',” explains Dr Myles.

If we could identify and maintain the genes responsible for the taste of varieties like Chardonnay or Merlot, we could produce a wider variety of grapes that are resistant to disease and with the desired combination of traits. The new variety may not be Chardonnay but may taste like Chardonnay.

Genomically selected grape varieties may be ready sooner than you think.

See also New grapes needed to keep wine flowing.

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