Wine was being made in France as early as the 5th Century BC, according to a new study of archaeological evidence found on the Mediterranean coast near Montpellier.
In a discovery described as ‘crucial’ to the history of winemaking, scientists say residues found in amphorae and a limestone wine press constitute the earliest biomolecular evidence yet found of winemaking by the Gauls.
They also discovered traces of pine resin, rosemary and basil, indicating that the wine was almost certainly flavoured for medicinal reasons, as well as to preserve it and disguise off flavours.
The team, led by Patrick McGovern, a biomolecular archaeologist from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, studied items found at modern-day Lattes – the ancient port of Lattara, one of France’s best-preserved Iron Age sites.
In the study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and reported in the magazine Nature, they used a number of chemical analytical techniques, including mass spectrometry and infrared spectroscopy.
They recovered the amphorae – dated to 500-475BC – from an Etruscan merchant’s quarters, and the limestone pressing platform – dated to 425-400BC and previously thought to be an olive press – also from Lattara.
The team detected traces of tartaric acid, as well as indications of pine resin and herbs, in organic compounds found in the fabric of all of the amphorae, indicating that they had been used for storing wine.
Similar residues were found in the limestone press, and there was evidence of grape skins and seeds scattered nearby.
The study’s authors describe the discovery as ‘crucial to the later history of wine in Europe and the rest of the world’.
They add: ‘The data support the hypothesis that export of wine by ship from Etruria in central Italy to southern Mediterranean France fuelled an ever-growing market and interest in wine there which, in turn, as evidenced by the wine press, led to transplantation of the Eurasian grape vine and the beginning of a Celtic industry in France.’
Winemaking is believed to have originated in the Middle East more than 8,000 years ago, with Greek and Phoenician merchants shipping wine throughout the Mediterranean by about 1,000BC.
Etruscans were trading wine along the French Mediterranean coast by 600BC, around the same time that the Greeks established a colony at Massalia, modern-day Marseilles.