Do French merlots or German rieslings have Turkish ancestors? That's the intriguing proposition raised by a Swiss botanist, who, using DNA analysis, is arguing that many of the wine grapes used today in western Europe and other parts of the world descend from wild grape varieties domesticated by Stone Age farmers in what is now Turkey. Reports AFP:
Today Turkey is home to archaeological sites as well as vineyards of ancient grape varieties like Bogazkere and Okuzgozu, which drew the curiosity of the Swiss botanist and grape DNA sleuth Jose Vouillamoz, for the clues they may offer to the origin of European wine.
Together with the biomolecular archaeologist Patrick McGovern, Vouillamoz has spent nearly a decade studying the world's cultivated and wild vines.
"We wanted to collect samples from wild and cultivated grape vines from the Near East -- that means southeastern Anatolia, Armenia and Georgia -- to see in which place the wild grape was, genetically speaking, linked the closest to the cultivated variety."
"It turned out to be southeastern Anatolia," the Asian part of modern Turkey, said Vouillamoz, speaking at the EWBC wine conference in the Turkish city of Izmir this month. "We propose the hypothesis that it is most likely the first place of grape vine domestication."
McGovern's lab at the University of Pennsylvania Museum also provided archaeological evidence of wine's Anatolian roots after analysing residues of liquid recovered from vessels thousands of years old.
Author of "Uncorking the Past" and "Ancient Wine", McGovern used a sensitive chemical technique to look for significant amounts of tartaric acid -- for which grapes are the only source in the Middle East.
While Georgia, Armenia and Iran all played a role in ancient winemaking, preliminary evidence from pottery and even older clay mineral containers, seems to place the very first domestication of the wild Eurasian grape Vitis vinifera in southeastern Anatolia sometime between 5,000 and 8,500 BC, McGovern said.
While Vouillamoz may have science on his side, the botanist's research will likely only further cloud the picture of which country gets to call itself the "birthplace of wine." As reported in a previous post, Armenia -- home to what is considered to be the world's oldest winery, unearthed at a site that dates back some 5,500 years -- recently protested a European Union decision which grants Georgia the exclusive right to use the slogan "the cradle of wine" when marketing its bottles in Europe. Considering the host of disputes Armenia has with Turkey (including some culinary ones), it seems unlikely the country will be very happy to see its neighbor to the west now in a position to also proclaim itself the "cradle of wine."