Barolo, Barbaresco, Brunello—Italian wines are some of the best in the world. And there’s a reason for that: They’ve been making it for thousands of years.
Now, a new find suggests they’ve been at it even longer than people thought. Researchers have found traces of 6,000-year-old wine in a Sicilian cave. Although it’s not the oldest in the world, the latest find has pushed back the date wine production on the Italian Peninsula by thousands of years.
Researchers took samples of organic residues from five copper storage jars found in a cave on Monte Kronio on Sicily’s southwest coast. The jars, discovered in 2012, were dated to the fourth millennium, B.C. During analysis, researchers found tartaric acid and its salt, which develops naturally during the fermentation of grapes. Those molecules are strong signs the jars were used in winemaking.
According to a press release, previous analysis of ancient grape seeds suggested that wine production in Italy did not start until 1300 to 1100 B.C. This new find pushes the timeline back around three thousand years.
Previously, the oldest known wine production center was found in an Armenian cave near the village of Areni.
Archaeologists found jars and a large vat where it’s believed people pressed wine the old- fashioned way: by stomping on the fruit. Chemical tests of residue from that site showed the presence of malvidin, a pigment that gives wine its red color. But Malvidin is also produced by pomegranates, which are grown in the region. And since they didn’t detect tartaric acid in these pots, it was impossible for the researchers to rule out the possibility other fruits could account for the chemical signatures.