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First French wine came from Italy

Research at Montpellier site shows Etruscan link – and that wine was used as medicine

4 June 2013

SCIENTISTS say that the earliest evidence of wine in France suggests it came from Italy - and that it was mixed with basil, thyme and other herbs to be used as medicine.

Research at the port site of Lattara, near the southern city of Montpellier, suggests winemaking took root in France as early as 500BC, as a result of drinks and traditions introduced by the ancient Etruscans in what is now Italy.

It most probably was drunk by the wealthy and powerful before eventually becoming a popular beverage enjoyed by the masses.

Tests using state of the art chemical analysis on unbroken ancient wine amphora left by Etruscan seafarers about 525-474BC showed tartaric acid, the biomarker of Eurasian grape wine, plus pine tree resin and herbs such as rosemary, thyme and basil in the wine residue, suggesting a medicinal use.

Tartaric acid was found on a nearby limestone pressing platform dating to about 425BC, suggesting it was used as a wine press.

Patrick McGovern, director of the biomolecular archaeology laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology said that, together, the artefacts provide the earliest known biomolecular archaeological evidence of grape wine and winemaking in France.

The research was revealed in the US journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Mr McGovern said: "France's rise to world prominence in the wine culture has been well documented. 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."

"Now we know the ancient Etruscans lured the Gauls into the Mediterranean wine culture by importing wine into southern France."

Mr McGovern, who has studied how wine culture originated in the Middle East some 9,000 years ago, and made its way to modern Europe, added: "This built up a demand that could only be met by establishing a native industry, likely done by transplanting the domesticated vine from Italy, and enlisting the requisite winemaking expertise from the Etruscans."

The samples tested were unbroken, unwashed and sealed, allowing for unhampered study of the residues inside.

Based on their shape, researchers believed the amphora were made in the city of Cisra (modern Cerveteri) in central Italy.

• The earliest known chemical evidence for wine was found in what is now northern Iran at the site of Hajji Firiz, and dates to about 5,400-5,000BC.
Photo: chiyacat - Fotolia.com

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