Iran (Persia) - the origins of wine

Wine now more popular than beer, thanks to Iran

Jun 25, 2021Martin Stead
Wine has now overtaken beer as our national tipple of choice. And we have Iran to thank for it. 
According to HMRC wine consumption in the U.K. has been steadily growing over the past decade. And with around 16 million litres sold each month, wine was already on the verge of overtaking beer as the most popular alcoholic drink in the U.K. at the start of 2020. Since wine is a more popular choice of beverage in the home than beer, following 12 months of lock-downs and hospitality closures, could wine has now been crowned as Britain's top tipple. 
So why this growth in the popularity of wine?
A former Sainsbury's senior executive is credited with introducing better wines to Britain a couple of decades ago, starting with some bold new reds from the Minervois region of France, thus initiating the growth in popularity of wine-drinking on our isles.
Perhaps the Sainsbury's executive was also riding a trend towards a return to centuries-old preferences? The Greeks had a god dedicated to wine - Dionysus, God of the grape harvest. And Roman high society fully embraced him, renaming him Bacchus and celebrating him with many tankards of plonk each night at their decadent parties.
Dionysus, Greek God of the grape harvest
According to recent academic research, wine has had a profound impact on the development of human civilisation over not just a few centuries, but over many thousands of years. Wine trading across regions and cultures is said to have played a major role in the spread of religious and philosophical ideas across Europe. Indeed, there are many references to wine drinking in the Old Testament, and wine is still used as the representation of Christ's blood in the Catholic Church.
''Fermented beverages, especially wine, have long played a crucial role in the transfer of culture from one people to another around the world.'' Professor Patrick E. McGovern
So what's all this got to do with Iran?
What many people don't know, as they sip on their Shiraz, is that wine is thought to have actually originated around seven thousand years ago, in Persia. As Persian folklore would have it, a young woman who lost favour with the King ate some rotting grapes in an attempt to take her own life, only to find that rather than dying, her mood became rather enhanced. She ate some more, and became such a socialite that she regained the King's favour!
And, so the tale goes, wine was invented.
There is also empirical evidence of wine's origins in Persia, as examined by Professor Patrick McGovern in his 2019 book Ancient Wine - the search for the origins of viniculture. Carbon dating of fossils confirms that wine was stored and consumed during the Neolithic period, some time between 5400-5000 B.C., at the site of Hajji Firuz Tepe, in the northern Zagros Mountains.
City of Tehran, capital of the Islamic Republic of Iran
City of Tehran, capital of the Islamic Republic of Iran
The site of Hajji Firuz Tepe Zagros, as well as Shiraz - which gives its name to the popular grape varietal - are now both within the Islamic Republic of Iran, where the drinking of alcohol is (ironically) strictly prohibited. So buying a fine bottle of Persian wine produced from centuries old vines in Shiraz is sadly neither an easy nor safe pursuit, for now.
Mercifully, in Europe we can still get Shiraz (or Syrah, its French cousin) - and plenty of other grape varieties - to drink freely and responsibly without fear of the death penalty. Next time you enjoy a glass of red, why not raise a glass to those ancient Persians to thank them for inventing wine some 7000 years ago, enabling us to enjoy it some 7000 kilometres away today.

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