Wine (meaning, of course, grape wine) has been made in the Near East for several thousand years and spread to Greece, Rome, and the Greek and Roman colonies in much of the Mediterranean and Europe. But the kinds of purifying and ripening processes we know today are relatively recent inventions. Not until Louis Pasteur’s time did the bacterial causes of wine spoilage begin to be understood on a scientific basis, and until the development of the cork stopper in the 17th century bottles were usually plugged with oil-soaked rags and probably did not age well.

In ancient times wine was stored in earthen jugs which could be sealed, but contamination and spoilage were nevertheless serious problems. It was usually prepared in a concentrated form (vinum merum) and stored that way until the moment when it was need, when it would be diluted. Concentrated wine was less susceptible to spoilage than dilute (normal) wine.

Ancient societies also prevented spoilage by the use of additives.

Resin was one common additive. It lent a strong taste to the wine, but stabilized it effectively against spoilage. Modern Retsina, famous as the Greek national wine, is essentially the same drink as the ancient vinum resinatum.

Wine could also be smoked. The resulting dark drink tasted quite different from normal wine, and is said to have been a favorite in Rome. It must have been widespread in the eastern Mediterranean, because it is mentioned in Talmudic sources.

Wine could also be preserved with various herbs, including hops, a bitter plant that gives most beers their distinctive taste. Modern Ethiopian Tej, a mead (honey wine) is still flavored with hops. Many other herbs were used to disguise the taste of inferior wine.

Pliny the Elder recommends heating wine in lead to help preserve it. He says it also adds a fine sweetness to the wine. This must have been a significant cause of lead poisoning in his day.

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