I like wine.

Let me say that again. This time in my best Brett Kavanaugh voice – I like wine. I love it, in fact. I love the way it looks as it cascades down the side of the glass like delicate tracks of viscous tears. I love the earthy aroma, subtle hints of fruit, herbs, flowers, and other scents I can trowel out of the glass. Lastly, and arguably the most important, I love the taste – an amalgamation of flavors from black cherry, grapefruit, and raspberry to milk chocolate, coffee, even tobacco. It’s like modern-day ambrosia for this oenophile.

So, you can imagine how giddy I was to learn a little-known fact that some of the modern-day varietals we enjoy today can be genetically linked to grapes grown by, drum roll please, the ancient Romans. Yep, those guys. Let me explain.

Two degrees of separation

Research conducted by a global coalition of grape geneticists, paleobotanists, archeologists, and DNA scientists analyzed grape seed genes dating back as far back as 2,500 years. The scientists collected 28 grape seeds from nine Dagoba-like, archeological swamps across France. And not surprising, their findings were somewhere between holy crap and that’s no moon, it’s a space station. 16 of the 28 specimens tested were within 1 to 2 generations removed from modern-day varietals. Think of it as the Kevin Bacon of grape seed genetics.

Even more amazing is in the case of one grape seed excavated from a medieval site in Orléans (Central France), the seed was genetically identical to modern-day Savignin Blanc (not to be confused with Sauvignon Blanc – the drink of choice for many white wine mommy zombies named Karen). The evidence concluded that the exact varietal, or a very close relative, was enjoyed by the Medieval French 900 years ago. Merde sainte!

Researchers had long suspected varietals such as Pinot Noir and Syrah were an exact genetic match to plants dating back almost two millennia but had no way of testing the lineage until recently. “From our sample of grape seeds, we found 18 distinct genetic signatures including on et of genetically identical seed from two Roman sites separated by more than 600 km (that’s 372.83 miles) and dating back 2,000 years ago”, said Dr. Nathan Wales from the University of York.

Winemaking proficiencies across history

The research also highlighted a “sister” relationship with varieties grown in Alpine to demonstrate winemakers proficiencies across history in managing vineyards with modern technology such as asexual reproduction and propagating the vines.

But hold on. What about the taste?

Well, here’s where it gets a bit dicey. According to the study, the wines enjoyed by the Romans  may not have actually tasted the same as today’s vintages. Techniques such as bottling, storing, and fermenting have evolved over time which significantly changed the flavor, texture, and overall taste of the wine.  However, the research also strongly suggests that wine played a central role in the social dynamics of Ancient Rome and concluded it was widely enjoyed at celebrations, religious ceremonies, and sporting events.

So, the next time you reach for that bottle of Pinot or Petit Syrah for your weekly Game of Thrones cosplay consider this: you may be drinking a vintage that was once enjoyed by Julius Caesar himself at the Battle of Alesia.

Cheers!

And now here’s something I think you’ll really like →

 

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red wine braised short ribs with creamy parmesan polenta

Ingredients

·       5 lbs bone-in short ribs, cut crosswise into 2” pieces

·       Kosher salt

·       Black pepper

·       1 bottle full-bodied red wine (I like to use Malbec, but any drier wine will work), about 2 cups.

·       2 cups low-sodium beef broth

·       1 head of garlic, cut crosswise

·       2 bay leaves

·       6-8 sprigs fresh thyme

·       4 sprigs fresh rosemary

·       4 sprigs fresh oregano

·       1 cup cornmeal

·       1 ½ cup whole milk

·       2 ½ cup water

·       ½ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

·       Salt to taste

·       4 tbs butter

Instructions

1.       Heat oven to 475 degrees.

2.       Using a large rimmed baking sheet, arrange ribs in one layer and season on both sides with salt and pepper.

3.       Roast the ribs 15-20 or until they start to caramelize.

4.       Transfer ribs to a large baking dish (I use my trusty Pyrex), arrange in one layer.

5.       Turn down the heat to 275.

6.       Poor the wine over the ribs. Add the garlic, rosemary, bay leaves, thyme, oregano. Add the beef broth.

7.       Cover the baking dish with foil and pop in the oven for 3 ½ – 4 hrs or until meat falls off the bone.

8.       Transfer the ribs to a platter.

9.       Skim the fat from the sauce and season with salt and pepper to taste.

For the Polenta

1.       Using a 3-quart pot, bring the milk and water to a boil.

2.       Add 1 tsp of salt or more to taste depending on preference.

3.       Slowly stir the polenta so no lumps form. Continue to cook until it thickens (about 20 minutes or so).

4.       Remove from heat and stir in the butter and freshly grated cheese.

5.       Serve the meat over the polenta. Spoon some of the sauce over the meat. Enjoy.

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