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Eight things you probably don’t know about wine

Thought you knew everything about wine? Some of these nuggets of wine-related trivia might surprise you.

Red grapes

From King Tut’s tomb and drunken Romans to Norse Viking voyages, wine has a rich and surprising history.

You might know your Merlot from your Malbec, but brushing up on this collection of little-known wine facts might just clinch you the top spot in your next pub quiz.

Click through for some of best wine facts from around the world…

Romans invented the toast with wine


The term “toast” originated in ancient Rome when the Senate ordered that the emperor Augustus be honoured with a toast at every meal. The custom began with a piece of burnt toast, known as the “tostus”, being dropped into a glass of wine. This was done to mask the wine’s unpleasant flavours, the ancient equivalent of oaking. Everyone would then raise their glasses to the guest of honour, giving rise to today’s well-known custom.

However with treachery rife, and poisoning the preferred way to pay off outstanding debts, it became customary for hosts to toast each guest before a meal, drinking from a common bowl to prove the wine had not been poisoned.

The world’s oldest bottle of wine is nearly 1,700 years old

Roemerwein_in_SpeyerThe world’s oldest wine bottle is believed to date back to AD 325 and was found near the town of Speyer, Germany, in 1867. It is believed to be the oldest unopened bottle of wine in the world, the glass bottle carries 1.5 litres of liquid. The bottle was discovered during an excavation within a 4th-century AD Roman nobleman’s tomb which contained two sarcophagi, one holding the body of a man and one a woman.

It’s believed the man was a Roman legionnaire and that the wine was a provision for his celestial journey. Of the six glass bottles in the woman’s sarcophagus and the ten vessels in the man’s sarcophagus, only one still contained a liquid. While the liquid had lost all of its ethanol content, analysis is consistent with at least part of the liquid having been wine.

It is likely that the wine was produced in the same region and was diluted with a mixture of herbs. and preserved with a large amount of thick olive oil which had been added to the bottle to seal the wine off from air, along with a hot wax seal.

Fear of wine is an actual thing

Annex-Leigh-Janet-Psycho_01While not a feeling most will have experienced, wine can apparently strike fear in the hearts of the unlucky few.

Oenophobia is the intense fear or hatred of wine and is officially defined as “the fear of wine; anxiety related to wine.”

Welcome to United States of “wine”

"Leif Erikson discovers America" by Christian Krogh (1893)
“Leif Erikson discovers America” by Christian Krogh (1893)

The  Norse Vikings called coastal North America and Newfoundland Vinland (“wine-land” or “pasture-land”) when they came ashore in AD 1000 because of the number of vines they found there. The coastline was first discovered by Leif Erikson in AD 1000, approximately five centuries prior to the voyages of Christopher Columbus.

In 1960, archaeological evidence of the only known Norse settlement in North America (outsideGreenland) was found at L’Anse aux Meadows on the northern tip of the island of Newfoundland. Before the discovery of archaeological evidence, Vinland was known only from Old Norse sagas and medieval historiography. The 1960 discovery conclusively proved the pre-Columbian Norse colonization of the Americas.

Thou shalt not sell fake wine

Code-de-Hammurabi-1Well before the likes of Rudy Kurniawan started ripping off wine buyers the Code of Hummurabi helped keep wine fraudsters in line.

A well-preserved Babylonian law code of ancient Mesopotamia, dating back to about 1754 BC, the Code of Hammurabi is one of the oldest deciphered writings in the world. The Code consists of 282 laws, one of which states that anyone caught selling fraudulent wine should be drowned in a river.

One nearly complete example of the Code survives today written on a diorite stele in the shape of a huge index finger. It is currently on display in the Louvre, Paris.

Chateau Lafite anyone? No.


A “cork tease” is a recognised term defined by the Urban Dictionary as “someone who always promises to open up a great bottle of wine but never does.”

Used in context, “she kept telling me how great the wine was but wouldn’t open a bottle, she’s such a cork tease.”






Tutankhamun’s wine was very well labelled


The boy king Tutankhamun, who died in 1352BC, enjoyed a glass of red wine with several bottles found buried in his tomb by archeologists when it was opened in 1922. The wine jars were labelled with the wine’s name, year of harvest, source and even vine grower. So detailed were the labels that some of them could even have met modern wine label laws in several countries. The wine had unsurprisingly dried out by the time it was discovered, however a team of Spanish scientists were able to determine the jars had contained red wine by pinpointing remnants of a specific acid left in red wine.

Symposium is actually code for “drinking party”

A slave attends to a vomiting symposiast. Source: Wiki

You might think that a symposium is a meeting of academics or professionals to discuss their profession or debate current affairs, and you would be right, but it’s also an excuse to drink. The term symposium originated in ancient Greece and literally means, “drinking together”, reflecting the Greeks’ fondness for mixing wine and intellectual discussion.

Symposia were usually held in the the men’s quarters of the household with participants invited to recline on pillowed couches while they were served food, wine and entertained, all while discussing politics and philosophy. They were often held to celebrate the introduction of young men into aristocratic society. A symposium would be overseen by a “symposiarch”, an ancient version of a sommelier, who would decide how strong the wine for the evening would be based on how serious the discussion. It would typically be served mixed with water as drinking pure wine was considered a habit of uncivilized peoples.

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