A Rainbow of Wine

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In ancient Rome, the wine flowed freely.

Now, new research has uncovered what it might have tasted like, Smithsonian Magazine reported.

Researchers Dimitri Van Limbergen and Paulina Komar found that Roman wine boasted a spicy taste, with tones of toasted bread, apples, roasted walnuts, and even curry – a far cry from the simplistic notions often held about its composition.

In their paper, the researchers delved into the role of clay pots known as “dolia” in the meticulous winemaking process. These vessels, ubiquitous in Roman times, served as more than mere storage containers, but instead were intricately engineered to influence the flavor and texture of wines.

Today, wines are made in stainless steel tanks and contain added preservatives. But ancient wine production is more similar to the modern Georgian method: Georgian winemakers use “gvevri” vessels – similar to dolia – and bury them underground to ferment wine.

The team explained that Romans buried dolia up to their mouths and sealed them with lids to regulate temperature, humidity, and pH during fermentation,

The porous ancient vessels were coated with pitch on the inside to facilitate controlled oxidation, while their narrow bases allowed solids from the grapes to sink to the bottom and separate from the wine.

These buried conditions also nurtured the development of flor yeasts, infusing the wine with unique compounds. The latter would give the ancient drink a distinctive flavor and aroma, such as notes of toasted bread, roasted nuts, and even green tea.

However, the final product would have an orange color, with Van Limbergen noting that comparing this hue to modern-day wines is tricky.

“Wine colors … were not standardly subdivided between white and red (as is done today), but for the Romans, they belonged to a wide spectrum of colors ranging from white and yellow to goldish, amber, brown and then red and black,” he told Newsweek.

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