Wine is old, ancient, neolithic. It has been consumed throughout recorded history. Yet wine as we know it today is relatively new. Where it originated, what it tasted like and represented, and how it was transformed over time are explored in Paul Lukacs’s fascinating new book, “Inventing Wine: A New History of One of the World’s Most Ancient Pleasures,” published in December by W. W. Norton & Company.
One thing is clear from Mr. Lukacs’s work: most wine for much of history was vile, nasty stuff. If an ancient critic had etched a tasting note to describe the wine that most people drank, it might have read, “Wretched, horrible, vinegary, foul.” Yet people drank it anyway, because they had no choice. Other beverages like water and milk were disease ridden. Wine might have tasted awful, but alcohol was a built-in disinfectant.
It was not until the Renaissance, writes Mr. Lukacs (who, when not researching wine, is an English professor at Loyola University Maryland in Baltimore), that familiar notions of discrimination came to be. Only then did wine connoisseurs, a minute group to be sure, begin to associate particular styles and qualities in wine with specific places, an early idea of terroir. And only then did astute wine drinkers begin to perceive that some wines could be appreciated intellectually and emotionally rather than just physically, and that the best wines conveyed a sense of balance, length and depth.