The Loh Down On Science

Archeaologists' startling news about the origin of French wines

Image courtesy of McGovern and others, PNAS, 2013.

Map of the ancient settlement of Lattara (modern Lattes), showing the locations of the analyzed samples. Map courtesy of Lattes excavations (redrawn by B.P.L.)

Are the finest French wines from . . . Italy?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

French wines may be famous.  But when and how did winemaking first appear in France?  It’s all a bit blurry.

Enter Patrick McGovern, from the University of Pennsylvania.  His new finding at an ancient port near Montpellier, France?  It’s creating quite the buzz!  Excavations revealed a room packed with pottery urns from 500 BC.  They’re shaped like wide-bodied carafes.  Some sport dark stains.  Chemical analyses turned up tartaric acid, a sure sign of grapes.

Could they have held jam, perchance?  Mais non!  McGovern found compounds specific to alcohol.  He also detected herbs and pine resin present in fruity elixirs today.  Make no mistake: That’s some old cold duck!

But here’s the twist.  The urns were from what's now Tuscany.  The entire concept of wine?  An Italian import!  The French got hooked, then began making their own.  McGovern says a nearby limestone structure was a wine press used a century later.

All fine, but when they find a fossil of the very first croissant?  Please don't tell us where it’s from.  And thank you.

***** For more 90-SECOND SCIENCE FACTS, click here.*****

This Thursday, from 2-3 p.m. on the LDOS blog: Sandra chats with author Christina Schwarz about her book The Edge of the Earth.

The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, with 89.3 KPCC. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

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