Bioanalytical

Is This the World's Oldest Wine? — Chromatography Can Find Out

Dec 15 2017 Read 1573 Times

As the earth’s climate changed in the Neolithic period — around 7,000 – 8,000 years ago, just after the last Ice Age — humans changed from nomadic wanderers to become settlers and farmers. Some people consider this to be one of the key points in the evolution of man. We established settlements that we used all year long — no more following crops as they grew and animals as they migrated. We put down roots, planted crops and kept livestock. There is evidence that we also made wine — an essential commodity for any Neolithic dwelling.

Domesticated bliss

As humans settled down, we learnt new skills that in turn made life better and allowed even quicker development of settlements. Skills like woodworking, building with stone and weaving. After we ‘discovered’ fire, we could fire clay to make pots that could then be used to store food and water. All these simple improvements had a profound impact on human society.

The first plants that humans cultivated were the cereals and legumes that provided a stable diet to the tribe throughout the year — with plants that could be stored through winter particularly important. But as they gained experience, other plants started to be cultivated with evidence of fruits, nuts and other plant products being found at various Neolithic sites. One plant that became domesticated is the Eurasian grape — which along with the fired pots allowed wine to be produced.

Neolithic vintage — Georgian Chablis?

A recent study by researchers from the University of Toronto — in the Caucasus region of Georgia, in Eurasia,— has found evidence of the earliest winemaking anywhere in the world. The work — Early Neolithic wine of Georgia in the South Caucasus — suggests that the winemaking could have occurred in the early Neolithic period almost 8000 years ago.

The team excavated at two Neolithic sites south of the capital Tbilisi and recovered pottery shards from jars. They then analysed the shards using tandem liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS) and gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS). The use of chromatography to identify unknowns is discussed in the article, A New Method for Fast Residual Solvents Analysis and Untargeted Unknown Identification Faster Sample Throughput and Shorter GC Runtimes Using GC-VUV and Static Headspace.

Organic acids in the pot

The team report that they identified tartaric acid and three other organic acids (malic, succinic and citric) that are associated with grape/wine. As the team state in the paper: ‘The presence of the four acids in the ancient samples is demonstrated by the exact correspondence of retention times for their extracted ion chromatograms with those of modern standards.’

As Stephen Batiuk — a co-author of the work says: ‘We believe this is the oldest example of wine being made from the Eurasian grapevine.’ It isn’t yet known whether the wine was made from cultivated or wild grapes — but the sites the team investigated lie within an area that contains many different species of wild grapes.

So, raise a glass to our Neolithic ancestors.

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