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B - 24 : HBA's Favorite Drink

One of the delights of our cruise will be the fabulous wines now produced in Turkey. The Rosés start to match the French Rosés of the Provence and the Cabernet-Sauvignons and Merlots are terrific. Am sure some of these reds which will soon find their way into the world’s league tables.

Was it like this 2’500 years ago when Persian merchants sailed along the Persian coast from the Levant to the West`? Persian wines were known for their high quality. The Persian King of Kings regularly received gifts of wine from nobles of subordinated nations. Originating from Armenia, a province in the northern part of Persia, it was cultivated as early as 4’000 BC. The tipsiness it produced gave it special, religious status. The Persians, Greeks and Romans all worshiped to the God of Wine.

Whilst wine had a prominent position in early ancient societies, it was expensive to make. It had to be sealed from contact with air otherwise would quickly turn into vinegar. First stored in difficult to make goat skins, the advance in pottery was a major break-through. Amphorae could easily be sealed with raisin (which we still find in today’s Retsina wine in Greece), their handles allowed them to be tied together and made them easy to store in the sand filled hull of merchant vessels. Wine production thus expanded considerably and wine was consumed as widely as beer. The international wine trade which is so well documented in ancient pottery could take off.

But coming back to the original question. Was it as delicious as today’s wines? Sadly, the answer is no. Wine was never consumed pure. It was always diluted and often on the brink of turning into vinegar. The famous 2 litres of wine the Roman Legionnaires consumed every day were probably closer to a thin vinegar-water mix than to our idea of wine. However, since alcohol killed unwanted bugs drinking wine was considered to be healthy.

Under the Romans, wine production became a thriving industry. Wherever there were Roman soldiers, wines were planted. Eventually, wine was produced in every corner of the Empire - even in the south of England. After the collapse of the Roman Empire in the 5th century AD, the church would continue the tradition.Wine was a key part of the Holy Mass. In many places, monks took over wine production.

This story is not complete without mentioning another invention that helped keeping wine from turning into vinegar: the oak barrel invented in the Roman province of Gallia, today’s France, in 100 AD. It allowed the save storage of much larger quantities of wine and made it easy to transport. For almost 2’000 years, the barrel remained the key storage vessel. It only changed with the Industrial Revolution which made the production of large quantities of high quality glass possible. The glass bottles in which the delicious Turkish wine is sold today had arrived.

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