The History of Red Wine

The earliest production of red wine using the fermentation process seems to have occurred around 6000BC, principally in Georgia (in the Caucasus region between Europe and Asia) and in Iran. Red wine has a chequered history principally since red wine itself can be divided into 6 main types of red grape varieties that contribute to the continuing development of this celebrated fruity sweet and dry alcoholic beverage:
Cabernet Sauvignon
This grape variety has a recent history – of less than 600years to be precise. Sauvignon grapes seem to have been first mentioned during the 18th century when one Baron De Brane is said to have planted a red wine grape called Vidure, French for ‘hardy vine.’ A popular vine that is grown in Australia, statistics tell us that in 2001 more than 28,000 hectares of Cabernet Sauvignon vines were planted there. Interestingly, whilst unripe Cabernet Sauvignon grapes produce a ‘grassy’ flavoured wine, ripe grapes of this variety yield a rich, ripe flavour.

One of the best known of Italian wines, it is a very old wine with a history stretching back before the 15th century, when Chianti is actually referred to as a white wine. The main type of grape in Chianti is the Sangiovese, but it may also contain Cabernet Sauvignon grapes too. Chianti wines are considered to be among the best to be produced in Italy. It is described as being a luscious wine due to its rich berry fruitiness.

Merlot grapes can be traced back to 1st century France. They are difficult to cultivate due largely to their being susceptible to early frosts. They are disadvantaged by their largeness and their thin skins, both of which makes them tempting targets for birds. However, this variety can thrive in cool climates and poor soil. The main French region for growing the Merlot variety is Bordeaux, and in similarity to Sauvignon Blanc grapes, Merlot is also successfully grown in north east italy.

Pinot Noir
This grape variety has a long history indeed since it dates back to the Romans and is affiliated to the noble Pinot family. It has religious connections in that it was used by Catholic monks in their sacraments. Thanks to the planting and replanting by these monks, Europe was enabled to develop specific varieties of grapes (and hence) wines to a particular region. By the 6th century barrels of Pinot Noir were being exported to the Pope. However, the French Revolution of 1789 proved a troublesome time and instead of landowners leaving plots of their land to monasteries of their choice, as had been the custom, vineyards were now seized and secularised and were given to the surviving members of the Pinot family to be managed independently. Predominantly grown in France, Pinot Noir has a rich full bodied flavour which compliments its soft, velvety texture. It is neither acidic nor tannic.

Believed to have originated from Tuscany in 1722, it is where the majority of Sangiovese grapes are still grown today. They are also grown successfully in California where the climate resembles Tuscany. From the 1890s onwards, this variety was used in the production of Chianti wine. Fourteen separate and distinctive clones of Sangiovese have been identified.

A variety that produces abundant fruit, its first appearance was in the USA in the 1830s. By the 1860s it was being produced in Californian wineries and has been defined as being one of the oldest wine varietals in California. It is difficult to cultivate due to its tendency to ripen unevenly.

The first variety of grape to be cultivated in unknown. However, with regards to wine making it is the Egyptians who left a detailed legacy of how wine was produced. This they did through their tomb paintings. Grapes were harvested with a curved knife and gathered in wicker baskets. From there they were placed in vats of acacia wood and trodden on. The Greeks most likely learnt their viticulture from the Babylonians, whilst the Romans improvised on Greek knowledge and techniques. The Romans chose Marseilles as their base and from here established the major wine producing regions of France. The Romans also developed the vineyards of the Rhine and Mosel in Germany.

Regarding Bordeaux wines, at the beginning of the 2nd millennium, ‘claret’ was being shipped to England from the Bordeaux region. By the 14th century, half of the wine produced in this region was sent to England in ships. During the 17th and 18th centuries, the majority of wine produced in the Bordeaux region was controlled by merchants from England, the Netherlands and Germany. In 1855 these merchants ranked these distinguished Bordeaux wines as Grands Crusclanes, a classification that still exists today.



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