Grapes have been around a lot longer than humans, or at least the human species as we know it today. The earliest fossil traces of grape plants date back somewhere around 60 million years, and have been found in several areas of Eurasia.
The fossil record for domesticated grapes is a little younger: what appear to be traces of grape cultivation dating back 6000-8000 years have been unearthed in present-day Georgia and Jordan, while the remnants of a Neolithic winery were recently discovered in present-day Armenia.
Wine is mentioned in some of the oldest texts and myths, such as Gilgamesh, and early Mediterranean civilization has seen its fare share of wine gods, from Shesmu to Dionysus to Dionysus’ Roman doppelgänger, Bacchus.
The ancient Roman civilization industrialized wine production, using slave labor to cultivate large estates full of vines to keep up with a growing demand. Some wines were aged, others were drunk within a year of production. Nobles, plebeians, soldiers, slaves, even livestock drank wine, albeit of different qualities and variations.
Through the first few centuries AD, wine production intensified on the Italian peninsula, and the Romans took note of how soil, microclimate, altitude, and other geographical factors influenced grapes. Many techniques developed by the Romans for grape cultivation are still in use today.
Can you find il vino antico [ancient wine] in Italy? Maybe. The oldest bottle of wine on record, called Römerwein, dates back to A.D. 325-350 and is permanently on display at the Speyer Museum. But take note: no matter how old a bottle of vino is, its drinkability depends on how well it’s been conserved / stored through the years.
If this is the kind of learning you like to do, pick up a copy of Italian Through Food!