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Representation of Greek wine under the sea. Source:  Christian Horras / Adobe stock

2500-Year-Old Submerged-Grape Greek Wine Recreated


Researchers have recreated a 2,500-year-old ancient Greek winemaking technique that uses submerged grapes in the process.

Viticulture has existed in Greece since the late Neolithic period and the domestic cultivation of grapes expanded through the early Bronze Age, becoming an important trade commodity with religious, social and medical applications. Also, several festivals were held throughout the year in Greece in honor of Dionysus, the god of wine.

While many varied wine production techniques emerged over time, wine maker Antonio Arrighi recently approached Professor Attilio Scienza , an esteemed University of Milan viticulturist and geneticist, about recreating a 2,500-year-old winemaking method using “submerged-grapes.”

Ancient Greek Wines of Island Vines

Ancient submerged-grape wine originated on the Greek island of Chios; the fifth largest of the Greek islands situated in the northern Aegean Sea. Separated from Turkey by the Chios Strait, in antiquity, the island exported vast amounts of mastic gum from which its nickname “the Mastic Island,” originates. But it was famed even more so for its production and distribution of “submerged-grape wine,” which according to a report in Wine Spectator, the islanders sold to elite families in “Rome, Marseille and beyond.”

Iconic windmills from the modern-day island of Chios, Greece. (raban48 / Adobe stock)

Iconic windmills from the modern-day island of Chios, Greece. (raban48 / Adobe stock)

The chosen location for the experiment was Elba Island, the largest Mediterranean island of the Tuscan Archipelago about 10 kilometers (6.2 mi) from the coastal town of Piombino. The reason grapes were soaked in the sea is because the salty water breaks down the oxidation that develops on grape skins and the waxy covering of the grapes dried quicker and trapped in more flavors and aromas.

Researchers, Arrighi and Scienza chose Ansonica grapes, aka Inzolia, with its tough sea-water resistant skin, which is grown in the vineyards of Maremma Tuscany, Silver Coast and in the islands of Giglio and Elba and are thought to have descended from ancient Greek grape lineages.

Picture of Ansonica / Inzolia grapes to show representation of the grapes used in the ancient Greek winemaking process. (Alexis Kreyder / Public domain)

Picture of Ansonica / Inzolia grapes to show representation of the grapes used in the ancient Greek winemaking process. (Alexis Kreyder / Public domain)

Submerged Grapes Make a Complex and Sapid Taste

A series of wicker baskets were loaded with bunches of test grapes, which were submerged to a depth of 10 meters (33 feet) and soaked for five days, before they were dried on traditional cane trays and the grapes were then fermented in terracotta amphorae for one year.

The inaugural 2018 vintage called “ Nesos” went to market with only 40 bottles and the so called “vino marino” is described as having “twice the phenolics of regular white wine.” According to the Wine Spectator Glossary, the word “ Phenolics” describes the antioxidants in tannins, pigments and flavor compounds within grape skins, seeds and stems: of which there are more measured in red wines than in whites.

The appearance of the ancient Greek wine is descried as “rusty yellow, slightly veiled and robust,” said Arrighi, and he added that the smell suggests a: “ripe white fruit, enamel, varnish and almond, while revealing a persistent, complex and prolonged taste, extremely sapid.” While only one bottle of the ancient Greek submerged-grape wine will be auctioned for charity, increasing requests from wine collectors mean that the 2019 Nesos vintage will soon be available to buy.

The Scientific Submergence of Grapes

It has to be said that it is not every day that teams of scientists undertake subsea wine experiments, but it is a ‘thing’ and according to a March 2018 article published on Greek Reporter, there are currently 10 wineries in the world taking their first steps into “submarine aging” located in the United States, Italy, France and Spain.

Also in 2018 on the southeastern shore of the Greek island of SantoriniGaia Winery experimented with “oxygen-free, underwater wine aging” by sending metal cages full of wines to a depth of 25 meters (82 feet) where they will remain for five years, in an attempt to study the aging potential of white wines.

This aging experiment was inspired by the discovery of an 1840 AD shipwreck discovered off the coast of Finland that had been shipping jars of Veuve Clicquot champagne to Russia, of which 46 bottles were found intact. When scientists tested and tasted these wines, they were presented with surprising results in that they had a “unique freshness with a mature, well-rounded flavor.” Furthermore, none of these wines had any traces of oxidation despite being more than a century old, and the expectations are high for what the first reserve of 2020 might have in store.

Top image: Representation of Greek wine under the sea. Source:  Christian Horras / Adobe stock

By Ashley Cowie

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Ashley is a Scottish historian, author, and documentary filmmaker presenting original perspectives on historical problems in accessible and exciting ways.

He was raised in Wick, a small fishing village in the county of Caithness on the north east coast of... Read More

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