Red or white wine, we know more about how the Romans made it

HISTORY – A common beverage in antiquity, wine was a drink prized by the Romans. But at the time, how did they produce it? This is what researchers from the universities of Avignon and Rome have looked into.

To do this, they examined three Roman-era amphoras, wine jars, found in 2018 on the seabed of the current port of San Felice Circeo, Italy. The results of their research were published this Wednesday, June 29 in the journal PLOS ONE.

Using multidisciplinary techniques such as paleobotany (study of fossil plants) or chemical analysis, the researchers discovered that Italian viticultural practices in Roman times consisted of using jars waterproofed with tar pitch.

ancient know-how

After examination of the amphoras discovered in Italy, various chemical compounds ranging from residues of plant tissues to various pollens were found. This is what made it possible to detect the presence of derivatives of grapes and pine in the jars, thus suggesting that they were used to make wine.

Specifically, the researchers believe they were used in the manufacturing processes of two types of wine, red and white. The pine allowed him to create tar, which was used to waterproof the jars, but also to flavor the beverage. This is all the more plausible since other archaeological sites have observed the same thing.

In order to produce wine, there was a need to import. Indeed, not all the ingredients were available locally. If the vine pollen corresponds to wild species of the region, the pine tar on the other hand was probably imported from Calabria or Sicily according to other historical sources.

A multidisciplinary approach

While chemical analysis has identified various components, caution is warranted in interpretation. For example tartaric acid was found, and is considered as proof of the presence of wine. However, this chemical compound can also come from the surrounding soil, or be contained in certain current plastic bags.

This is therefore the interest of the multidisciplinary approach to study ancient cultural practices from archaeological artefacts. In this case, to ensure that the amphoras did indeed contain wine, the researchers combined chemical analysis and paleobotany.

This is what the authors of the study claim: “Using different approaches (…), we pushed the conclusion further in understanding the ancient practices than it would have been with a single approach. .”

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