Viticulture and Venus: A History of Wine and Love
Part One: Ancient History to the End of the First Century B.C.
“Without… wine love would grow cold.” – Roman proverb
From Dionysus and Aphrodite to Mark Antony and Cleopatra, the world of viticulture and the human proclivity for passion are inextricably linked. Sometimes wine acts as a catalyst for the chemistry between lovers, other times the obsession at hand is love for the actual elixir itself. Either way, there is one constant certainty: wine is present with humankind through the ages, flowing alongside the timeline of history like a languid river of romance and mystique. The meandering path of wine saunters through the unfolding eras below, into the present day and splashing, alas, into the very glasses clinked between lovers. Though the wines of these eras are long since quelled, this timeline includes modern suggestions — aptly named for honoring the vintners, toasters and lovers within these stories.
China – Yellow River Valley 7000 B.C.
The Serenading Sipper
A recent archaeological study of an ancient site in the Henan Province yielded evidence of clay jars containing a type of barley wine made from rice, honey, hawthorn and wild grapes. This so-called “Neolithic Grog” is thought to have been used in religious ceremonies and funerary events. Bleak as it may seem, the fact that the first known musical instruments were also found at this site alongside the clay jars suggests that perhaps it wasn’t all just prayer and mourning. These ancient flutes made from the wing bones of the red-crowned crane are capable of producing the pentatonic scale — the basis of modern popular music which is largely fixated on romance, love and loss thereof. Maybe, just maybe — a starry eyed young flutist used his sweet music to woo the object of his affection after building up the courage to do so with a few hearty huffs of the “Neolithic Grog.”
Modern Toasting Suggestion: 2013 Passion Has Red Lips Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz
Iran – Zagros Mountains 5400 B.C.
The Promiscuous Princess
Contrary to modern Iranian law, drinking wine in ancient Persia was not a crime and viticulture was a cornerstone of the social and economic structure. As the mythic legend goes: a young princess managed to lose favor with her patriarch, King Jamshid. In her despair she sought to poison herself to death by consuming the contents of a jar filled with rotten grapes. Instead of getting sick she became euphoric, then fell soundly asleep to awaken refreshed and depression-free. She presented this fantastic discovery to her King and thus regained his acceptance. Soon the King’s entire court was reveling in the wonders of this breakthrough and it was proclaimed that all viticulture was to be pursued for the purpose of making wine. This begs the question: what did the young princess do to anger her father so? Perhaps she had entertained a young suitor that the King did not approve of, thus making romance the founder of wine by proxy. If that was indeed the case, wine has been repaying the favor ever since.
Modern Toasting Suggestion: Chateau Diana Risk Taker Red Blended Wine
Greece – Northern and Southern Regions 4200 – 3800 B.C.
The Eternal Embracers
At an ancient site known as Dikili Tash, organic remnants lining the interior of ceramic vases were recently discovered to include tartaric acid, indicating that the containers were used for fermentation. The age of the clay and its contents were confirmed using radiocarbon dating, and give rise to new discussions about the socioeconomic fabric of an agricultural society that placed significant importance on wine. Meanwhile, to the south in the Peloponnese region, a stunning archaeological site recently revealed the remains of a young couple buried in an intimate embrace and surrounded by — among other things — ceramic urns. Carbon dating ages the evidence to 3,800 B.C., body positioning suggests that the entombed were lovers and optimism places wine in those jars (once upon a time). Although this era predates the written word in this region, by this time the spoken word had been in use for many millennia. As the human brain and DNA have changed very little over the last few hundred thousand years, it is likely that the folktales of this era were rife with stories of desire, lust, romance and love. No doubt these were the narratives that wove the rich fabric that became Greek Mythology — a tapestry abundant with tales of passion, jealousy and scandal — all tinged with the bittersweet flavor of the thick, syrupy wine of the time.
Modern Toasting Suggestion: Chateau Diana Zombie Zin Zinfandel
Egypt – Umm el-Qa’ab 3100 B.C. (King Scorpion’s Tomb)
Valley of the Kings 1300 B.C. (Tutankhamen’s Tomb)
Upon excavating the tomb of King Scorpion I, archaeologists discovered clay jars containing the residue of herb and resin-spiked wine. These relics and their remnants were so adored that the King saw fit to import them in large quantities from Palestine — a region located hundreds of miles away. Subsequently, writing on clay jars found within the tomb King Tutankhamen included information on local vintner, vineyard and even the quality of the wine within. Thus, importation of wine finally gave way to Egyptian viticulture and by the third century B.C., specific deities had been assigned to this coveted libation of the upper classes. Sheshmu was the god of the wine press, while Hathor was the goddess of wine and love. Superior to both, however, were the divinely wedded Osiris and Isis: The Lord of Wine and the Mistress of Wine and Beer. Wine was affectionately referred to as “The Blood of Osiris” and was to be given by a man to the object of his desire as part of a sensual spell. As the ancient ritual prayer from the Pyramid Texts prompts: “Give it, the blood of Osiris, that he gave to Isis to make her feel love in her heart for him night and day at any time, there not being time of deficiency.”
Modern Toasting Suggestion: Monogamy Cabernet Sauvignon
Mycenaean Greece 1350 B.C.
The Immortal Enabler
Upper central Mediterranean viticulture had begun to flourish by the mid-13th Century, casting wine in an essential role at the center of Mycenaean culture. This inspired myriad tales of the undisputed heavyweight Demigod of wine, theater and merriment. He was worshiped by the ancient Greeks as Dionysus and later as Bacchus by the Romans. Homer, the acclaimed scribe of Greek Mythology described him as ‘Joy of Men’ whilst one of Homer’s counterparts, Hesiod, called him ‘much cheering’. Dionysus and wine itself were revered in festivals and gatherings throughout the year, eventually garnering their own stage — the Theater of Dionysus — located just below the Parthenon in Athens. Accounts of cult gatherings in his honor carry tales of eroticism, phallic imagery and even the act of women sexually “surrendering” themselves to his influence. Dionysus himself was no stranger to wine-inspired romance, as he wooed his soon-to-be wife Ariadne after being abducted by pirates, turning their ship mast into a huge grape vine, causing wine to rain from the sails and then turning into a lion and vanquishing his captors. He had two children with the mortal Ariadne, and another with Aphrodite ( known to the Romans as Venus). Their son was called Priapus, and is historically depicted as, well, quite well endowed.
Modern Toasting Suggestion: Naked Winery 2013 Penetration Cabernet Sauvignon
Egypt – Alexandria 69 B.C.
Conquest and Betrayal
Cleopatra was born heir apparent to the Egyptian Ptolemaic Dynasty and thus, of Greek-Macedonian descent. As her heritage suggests, she was quite fond of wine and was immersed in the Bacchanalian (Roman for Dionysian) traditions of throwing orgiastic soirees wherein large amounts of wine were consumed over a length of several days. Egyptian viticulture was flourishing, having inherited the entirety of Grecian cultivation secrets that were absorbed by the Romans who conquered them. The Egyptian throne was intrinsically tied to that of Rome, as were the romantic fixations of Cleopatra — the last Pharaoh of Egypt. Her love affair with Julius Caesar solidified her place among royalty, where her wealth afforded the luxury of physical immersion in tubs of red wine to fortify her beauty. As Mark Antony succeeded Caesar’s military command, so too was his attention lured by Cleopatra’s charms. The affair was a mess of betrayals befitting the traditions of the time and thus, ended tragically, but not before the couple’s wine-fueled madness became the stuff of legend. The writer of a slander campaign against Cleopatra proclaimed “Her mind is swimming in Mareotic wine, while her speech is slurred by a tongue submerged by incessant wine.” Meanwhile the philosopher Cicero, a critic of Mark Antony wrote “Your house rang with the din of drunkards, the pavement swam with wine, the walls dripped with it. You are a drink-sodden, sex-ridden wreck.”
Modern Toasting Suggestion: Happy Bitch Sauvignon Blanc
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