You don’t have to be a wine connoisseur to be aware of the immense popular of wine. In 2012 alone, Americans spent over $34 billion dollars on merlots, chardonnays, pinot noirs and other wine varieties. In modern times, wine is generally viewed as an occasional dinnertime (or after-dinner) treat, and is often reserved for celebratory events. While most people view wine as a sort of luxury drink, this beverage boasts an engrossing history spanning back to the dawn of civilization. And on top of that, it’s pretty good for your health too.
Origins and History of Wine
Researchers can trace the history of wine making to the period of 6000 to 4000 BC. The first wines were produced in Mesopotamia, an area that gave birth to the world’s first major empires. Among the early pioneers of wine production were the ancient Egyptians, who left behind the first written instructions for turning grapes into an alluring drink. With its highly appealing taste, wine quickly gained favor among the ruling classes in these early societies (its alcoholic content probably didn’t hurt either). With the elites of the ancient world gravitating towards wine, commoners had to make due with less glamorous drinks, such as beer, ale and mead.
As human civilization began its steady trek westward, winemaking began to spread along with it. The upper classes of the Greek city-states quickly developed a taste for wine, and the drink was praised by legendary Grecian storytellers like Homer and Aesop. In fact, wine was so cherished among the ancient Greeks that the drink received its very own god (the deity was called Dionysus, who was known as the god of the grape harvest, winemaking and wine). The Greek historian Thucydides credited wine with the formation of civilization itself, opining that “the peoples of the Mediterranean began to emerge from barbarism when they learnt to cultivate the olive and the vine.”
By the second century BC, the Romans had seized control of the Mediterranean Basin, and with it acquired a vast knowledge and interest in winemaking. As with the Egyptians and Greeks before them, wine rapidly became a valued commodity in Roman society. The Romans traded wine in exchange for slaves, and politicians gave away the drink at public events to win the support of the working class. While Romans of all economic standing enjoyed wine, virtually all Romans mixed water, honey and various spices into the drink. Drinking straight wine was considered extremely uncouth, something that only a barbarian would consider doing.
Rome’s centuries-long dominance of Europe ensured the spread of wine into the modern-day nations of France, Spain, Germany and England. And as the Roman Empire collapsed and gave way to the medieval ages, wine became a staple of the diets of European peoples. This change in dietary habits was one of necessity, as medieval well water was usually highly contaminated with harmful bacteria. Once reserved for the wealthy and powerful, wine was now necessary to the survival of millions of peasants.
It wasn’t until the 1500s that winemakers begin to mass produce high-quality wine. French wine in particular gained a sterling reputation for its distinct taste. With the discovery of the New World and subsequent explosion of international trade, wine regained its former glory as a valuable trading asset. In the 19th and 20th century, innovations in technology and grape cultivation allowed consumers to enjoy a wider variety of wines.
Wine and Your Health
Much has been written of the positive health effects of drinking wine, and for good reason – diets that feature wine have been linked to longer life spans and a decreased risk of deadly diseases. Of course, this shouldn’t be taken as a license to drink wine until your heart’s content; the US Department of Health and Human Services advises that men should limit themselves to two 5-ounce glasses per day (for women, this figure drops to one glass). When consumed responsibly, both red and white wine can be very beneficial to the body.
Decreased Incidence of Heart Attack – A study published by the Harvard School of Public Health, spanning 16 years and surveying nearly 12,000 men, found that a drinking a moderate amount of wine reduced the odds of heart attack by 30 percent.
Longer Life Expectancy – A survey of nearly 2500 Finnish men found that wine drinkers had a 34 percent lower mortality rate than those who preferred beer or spirits.
Reduced Risk Of Diabetes – According to Amsterdam’s VU University Medical Center, moderate consumption of wine lowers your risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 30 percent.
A Preventative Measure Against Strokes – Strokes occur when clots in the bloodstream prevent blood from reaching the brain. Dinking moderate amounts of alcohol, according to a Columbia University study of 3200 individuals, reduces the odds of stroke by 50 percent.
A Force Against Colon Cancer – Researchers from Stony Brook University have linked wine to a 45% lower incidence of colon cancer. The link is especially pronounced for red wine drinkers.
Better Cognitive Function – A 2010 Norwegian study of over 5000 adults found that drinking wine improved the thought-processing abilities of older adults. Drinking wine allowed participants to achieve better scores on cognitive function tests. The average age of the test subjects was 58, indicating that wine can help ward off one of the telltale signs of aging.