An ancient Georgian wine jug. An ancient Georgian wine jug. An ancient Georgian wine jug, much like the one scientists recently discovered. (Photo: Tasha Cherkasova / Shutterstock)

Newly discovered 8,000-year-old wine breaks archaeological record

The oldest wine ever found was buried in a Neolithic village in Georgia.

Dr. Patrick McGovern searched for years for the perfect glass of wine. No cheap red wine would do; even 200-year-old Cabernets and 100-year-old sherries weren't good enough. No, McGovern wouldn't settle for any bottle that had aged less than a few thousand years.

McGovern is a University of Pennsylvania anthropologist studying the origins of wine, and he recently found what he was looking for: an 8,000-year-old jar in the country of Georgia containing traces of the world's oldest wine ever discovered. So much for that 1727 German vintage you were showing off.

The anthropologist and his colleagues from the U.S., Israel, Canada, Denmark, France, Georgia and Italy excavated a Neolithic village in Georgia. There, they uncovered clay jars. One had an image on it of people dancing under grapevine tresses, a pretty decent hint that the jar was used for wine. Molecular analysis was an even better hint: the scientists found citric, malic, succinic and tartaric acids on the jars, a combination that McGovern said only comes from grape beverages. The wine was made from the same grapes we use to make wine today.

Neolithic jars scientists found containing traces of the oldest wine ever discovered. Pieces of jars containing traces of the oldest wine ever discovered. They have a nice homemade look but could do with a coat of paint. (Photo: Mindia Jalabadze / Courtesy of the National Museum of Georgia)

The discovery was a long time coming. McGovern traveled around the world for years looking for the origins of fun drinks. "In the popular imagination, he is known as the 'Indiana Jones of Ancient Ales, Wines, and Extreme Beverages'," reads his website.

Georgians, incidentally, are particularly excited by this finding. They have a long winemaking history (as do many countries in the region), and now they can safely brag that theirs is the longest. David Lordkipanidze, the director of the Georgian National Museum, explained that this discovery is an opportunity to show that Georgian wine "is not only old, but is also good." We're not really sure what he meant by that, but if you see a Georgian museum director show up at an international winemaking competition with some flakes of expired, chalky-tasting wine, you'll know why.

After McGovern found the jar, he sat in his hotel room in Tbilisi, Georgia's capital. He sipped a glass of considerably newer wine and looked out the window. To his surprise, he found himself looking at the same image he saw on the jar earlier: the public building across the street from his was decorated with a motif of people dancing under grapevines. Eight thousand years have passed, empires have risen and fallen, but our relationship with wine remains the same.

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