- by Dan Jordan
Practical, Fun, and Just Plain Weird Facts About Wine
What’s in a Name?
Let’s start with some basic terms: Oenophilia (pronounced ee-na-phi-lia) is a love of wine. That makes you, dear reader and wine lover, an oenophile. The term may sound ancient Greek in origin, combining the words for wine (oinos) and love (philia), but it was coined more recently by the French in the mid-1800s. Anyone who loves wine—from vintners to connoisseurs and collectors to casual drinkers—can be called an oenophile.
Where Does Wine Come From?
I bet you’d think wine originated in a country like France, or perhaps Italy. They are, after all, historically two of the largest producers of wine in the world. But the common grape vine used to make the majority of wines, vitis vinifera, actually comes from Central Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. Vitis vinifera was spread to the Mediterranean region and Western Europe by the Phoenicians and Greeks, growing and adapting to the different environments it was planted in to produce over a thousand wine varieties we know of today!
Since we’re on the topic of wine’s origin story, the earliest evidence of winemaking has recently been found in Georgia, where archaeologists found clay jars with grape residue dating back nearly 8,000 years ago in the Neolithic period. Other sites where ancient wine has been found include: China (c. 7,000 B.C.E.), Iran (c. 5,000 B.C.E.), Greece (c. 4,500 B.C.E.), and Sicily (c. 1,400 B.C.E.).
Meanwhile, the oldest winery (4,100 B.C.E.) was found in the caves of a village named Areni in Armenia; the village still produces wine from a local and very old grape of the same name.
Sadly, the ancient winery in Areni is no longer in use, but you can certainly visit some more “recent” (that is, relative to Areni) wineries established in Europe over a millennia ago. In fact, Europe is home to the oldest wineries still in production today. Germany’s Staffelter Hof was established way back in 862 C.E. where it once produced wines for a Belgian monastery until the French Revolution, while France’s first winery, the Château de Goulaine, was founded by the Marquis Goulaine in the Loire Valley in 1,000 C.E. The Château de Goulaine is still run by the very same family and is considered one of the oldest European family-owned businesses. Talk about keeping it in the family!
A Really, Really Vintage Wine
We often hear that with wine, the older, the better.
Well, this may not be the case with the Speyer wine bottle, the oldest bottle of wine in the world, which was found intact and sealed with wax in the 19th century in a Roman tomb in Speyer, Germany. Scientists have dated the clear glass bottle between 325 and 350 C.E. and while it did once contain wine, it’s definitely lost its alcohol content, so what remains is a murky sludge of olive oil (to preserve the wine) and herbs (to flavour and dilute the wine) and… well, we’re not entirely sure what else is inside because despite the raging curiosity, everyone is too scared to open it, let alone touch it. It’s currently on display in the Historical Museum of the Palatinate in Speyer. As for what it would taste like:
We’re Detecting Rich, Fruity Flavours With a Hint of… Meteorite?
In case a glass of 1,650-year-old, uh, “wine” isn’t tempting, how about something a little more galactic?
In 2012, astronomer Ian Hutcheon launched (insert laugh track) a Cabernet Sauvignon that had been aged with a 4.5 billion-year-old meteorite, which had crashed in the Atacama Desert nearly 6,000 years ago. According to Hutcheon, he and his colleagues believe “the meteorite infused wine felt fresher and livelier than the other wines.” Aptly named Meteorito, the vintage is surprisingly affordable at around $20 USD a bottle, but is so far only available at his observatory, Centro Astronomico Tagua Tagua, in Chile.
In case you can’t make the trek to Hutcheon’s observatory to have a taste of the stars, but still want to try something different, keep an eye out for wines made with non-traditional flavours, including avocado, pumpkin, tomato, garlic (blergh!), jalapeño, maple tree sap and maple syrup, mango, grapefruit, lilac, rose, coffee, and birthday cake (yum).
Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous
In late 2018, Sotheby’s auctioned off a bottle of 1945 Romanée-Conti Burgundy wine for $558,000, making it the most expensive bottle of wine ever sold. A second bottle was later auctioned for $496,000. Only 600 bottles of the wine have ever been produced. What would a glass of that taste like? (Better than the Speyer wine, that’s for sure.)
In case you don’t happen to have a million dollars just lying around, thankfully there are far more affordable wines available, such as Corkbeard's own line of wines, which we’d like to think are as good as a 1945 Romanée-Conti. You can also check out our list of the 5 Best Wines Under $20 to Bring to a Party.
Around the World
Wine’s long history has seen it grow (literally) all over the world and become more affordable, so it’s only logical that the demographics for wine consumption and production have also changed.
According to the latest figures from The Wine Institute, the biggest worldwide producers of wine are Italy, France, Spain, and the U.S.A.—specifically, California (which, incidentally, is where Corkbeard wine is grown!). On the flip side, the biggest worldwide consumers of wine are the U.S.A., France, Italy, and Germany. (Canada trails in eleventh place—step up your game, Canada.)
Share your favourite wine facts with us in the comments section below!
P.S. New to wine and want to learn more? Check out our post Wine 101: What Are the Different Types of Wine?