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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on July 31, 2007
I cannot remember holding a book in my hands that caused me more excitement and enchantment any time recently. And the best thing of all is that it is not a fairy tale, not even a "romanticized" account of the ancient history of wine; on the contrary, with all the diligence and impartiality of a good CSI detective, this book sticks to evidence and confirmed facts. Still, it manages to weave a compelling story of how wine was intricately connected with the very origins of civilization (or, should I say, civilizations). The book is not only difficult to put down, but as a viticulture and wine educator I find it impossible to ignore when preparing teaching materials. Granted, there is still a lot of uncertainty about certain wine archaeological issues and much more work to be done, but I find that part probably the most exciting. I recommend this book to the viticulture and wine professional and enthusiast alike, as well as anybody interested in archaeology and origins of civilizations.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on January 24, 2008
Pardon my title; this is an amazing book. Essential for anyone interested in wine history. There was the occasional repetition of certain sentences and phrases that an editor ought to have caught (I'm an editor, I notice these things) but in a nutshell the approach the author uses - "molecular archaeology" - is truly revolutionary. What I like best is that he has confirmed, once and for all, that ancient wines were distinctly different from modern wine, most importantly in the sense that they were infused with a wide variety of substances such as resins, plant matter, spices, and the like. This confirms the textual accounts that have survived, but have largely been ignored or marginalized in a number of fields.

A minor quibble: the author is surprisingly skittish on the matter of the potion of the Eleusinian Mysteries, the "kykeon." On the one hand he appears to accept the argument made in the Road to Eleusis that the "kykeon" was an intoxicant (the work is not however mentioned in his sources). On the other hand he appears to hint on more than on occasion that he believes the Eleusinian kykeon was a "grog" of the sort mentioned in epic poetry. This is unpersuasive; grogs do not produce sublime visions, and the ingredients of the Eleusinian kykeon were water, mint, and barley. No wine was present during initiation into the Greater Mysteries, nor would one expect it given that Demeter refuses wine in the Homeric Hymn to Demeter.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on October 13, 2008
Patrick McGovern's distinctly archaeological analysis of wine in prehistory documents the remarkable saga of human manipulation of the fermentation process. This book chronicles the evidence of 9,000 years of production not only of wine, but of beer, mead, grog (a delightful mixture of fermented fruit, barley or rice, and honey) and various assorted fruit wines and barley and rice beers. As a professor of archaeology specializing in the art of ancient viniculture at the University of Pennsylvania, McGovern is in a unique position to describe the history of wine-making as it relates to the development of human culture.McGovern outlines how the coalescence of environmental conditions and human technological advancements paved the way for the growing importance of fermentation in early societies. Anyone interested in the historical development of wine-making or the role of fermented beverages in prehistory will certainly be educated and entertained by this book.
Societies as diverse as the Egyptians,Greeks, the Sumerians and the Vikings had Gods who oversaw the production of fermented drinks, indicating that the religious significance of alcohol production and consumption is a common cross-cultural thread in the history of fermentation. Using religious, feasting, drinking and alcohol production evidence from the archaeological record as social indicators of alcohol consumption, McGovern blends modern scientific advances with old-fashioned archaeology to describe how he was able to isolate the evidence of fermentation from ancient residues clinging to the internal surfaces of pottery vessels. The descriptive process of recovering, analyzing and interpreting data is the source of McGovern's potency as a writer.
Ancient Wine: The Search for the Origins of Viniculture places fermented beverages squarely in the middle of ancient culture and helps explain how the novel flavors, medicinal properties and psychoactive effects of alcohol correlate to the development of civilization. Even though this book may occasionally seem over-technical; or may appear to embellish the social and religious significance of wine, it is an excellent reference for scholars, vintners, brewers and people who enjoy learning about fermentation.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on December 30, 2011
I only wish my writing skills were up to the task of remarking on how compelling this book was, but I'll do my best. While quite technical [from a complete layman's point of view] 'Ancient Wines' was at the same time engaging, entertaining and read like a good detective story. The author uses his scientific expertise to break down the vast histories and technical gobble-dee-gook into small, easily digestible pieces. His background puts him at the leading edge of this field and he presents material that may be new even to professionals. If you're interested in the history of wine at all, this book won't disappoint. It's one of those rare books that, even if you don't finish, you'll have gotten your moneys worth by the time you get through the first few chapters, [and in the interest of modesty I won't even mention how you can one-up that idiot that thinks he knows everything there is to know about wine, ha]. Really, I had my doubts about buying this book, and in the end found that I just couldn't put it down.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on March 21, 2010
Ancient Wine - The Search for the Origins on Viniculture reads as an intriguing journey, guided by molecular biologist Patrick E. McGovern from the New Stone Age to the dawn of Western Civilization. The author, while pointing up the evidence of wine culture in pre-history, shares with us both his field and gustatory experiences from around the globe. Utilizing modern chemical analysis, linguistic evidence, and the entire arsenal of investigatory sciences that have blossomed in the last decade, the author allows us to accompany him on a adventure from wine's beginnings in the Caucasus in the East through its spread West, North and South.
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on April 16, 2015
This book will put you in a league of your own at wine tastings as only YOU will understand the true history of the origin of wine letting others whine on about their stupidity. It will take you a bit of effort to go through, but if you don't have a degree in Chemistry, as I do, you can quickly gloss over the technical parts you have difficulty with and focus of the archaeological, historical and geographical aspects of ancient wine making and associated cultures. The story begins before writing as far back as 8,000 years and continues to the Greek and Roman times where it ends. In this book, the Greeks and Romans are modern at 2,000 years ago ! So forget about French and Spanish wine, let alone Californian.
The home brewer of beer or wine will be motivated to try and duplicate some of the ancient documented 'grogs' , for lack of a better word, that abounded from time to time in the ancient world. These were mixtures of grape, barley and honey as well as tree resin, other fruits, dates, and herbs thrown into the fermentation vessel. Much like the home brewer today experimenting with all types of additions to his beer, the ancients tried everything too. They even tried poppy and such that produced a drugged brew that may have brought down an empire or two. Those living in Marijuana allowed States may want to look into the legality of adding pot to the fermentation pot. This would be in keeping with the ancient winemakers who seemed to know no bounds in their research.
A home vintner ought to have this book in his reference library.
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on September 1, 2014
Very scholarly work on history of wine and winemaking. It is not concerned with alcohol or non-alcohol as much as what types of wines and mixed 'fruit' drinks were being prepared.
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on August 26, 2014
A pleasing gift for a foodie.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on February 9, 2015
Not very well written.
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