Wednesday 26 June 2019

Classic vintage: pinot noir and syrah traced to ancient Rome

Close relationship: Ancient wines not identical, but close to modern varietals
Close relationship: Ancient wines not identical, but close to modern varietals

Sarah Knapton

The Romans loved wine so much that they are thought to have drunk 180 million litres a year - the equivalent of a bottle of wine per citizen per day.

But until now it has been unclear what exactly they were quaffing.

Now researchers at the universities of York and Copenhagen have analysed Roman grape seeds discovered at classical sites in France and found they were close relatives of the modern syrah and pinot noir varieties.

Pinot noir is one of the oldest wine varieties in the world, although the date of its arrival in France is unclear.

Some ancient sources claimed the Romans brought it with them, while others said the invaders had discovered that Gallic tribes were making wine from wild native grapes.

Although researchers did not find an identical genetic match with modern-day seeds, they found a close relationship between pinot-savagnin and syrah-mondeuse blanche families.

Dr Jazmin Ramos-Madrigal, a postdoctoral researcher from the University of Copenhagen, said: "We know the Romans had advanced knowledge of wine-making and designated specific names to different grape varieties, but it has, so far, been impossible to link their Latin names to modern varieties.

"Now we have the opportunity to use genetics to know exactly what the Romans were growing in their vineyards."

Researchers used the extensive genetic database of modern grapevines to test and compare 28 archaeological seeds from French sites dating back to the Iron Age, Roman era and medieval period.

One archaeological grape seed excavated from a medieval site in Orleans in central France was genetically identical to the savagnin blanc variety still grown today, meaning the same vines have been grown for at least 900 years. This variety still grows in the Jura region of France.

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