8 Little Known Facts about Wine

Wine is one of those things that people like to be able to talk about. And while some people can carry on a good wine-related conversation, most people wing it.

1 Grapes Can Ferment Themselves!

If you squeeze some grape juice into a jar and keep it a little warm, it'll turn into wine all by itself. The yeast that lives on grape skins is so irrepressible that it produces wine automatically. It may not be good wine, but it's wine nonetheless.

Because this process is so automatic, historians, botanists and other wine-minded experts agree that wine was the first alcoholic beverage discovered by prehistoric groups. They believe that the first wine was discovered, tasted, and then deliberately produced about 10,000 years ago.

2 Grapes may have made the first beer

If wine wasn't the first alcoholic beverage, then the yeast from grapes was used to make the first beer.

In history as in the barroom, wine has its advocates and beer has its advocates, and some historians believe people made beer before they made wine.

But the skin of the grape proved to be essential even in this process. The yeast from the foam of the skin of fermenting grapes is a catalyst to fermenting honey, fruits and barley, which is the start of a good beer.

3 Wine Saved People from Diseased Water

The first clear health benefit of wine was that it saved growing populations from the diseases caused by bad water.

Any time large groups of people settle in an area, the water, left untreated, goes bad. People start dying of dysentery, cholera and botulism as more people move in and contaminate the water supply.

Wine doesn't kill you. In fact, the high alcohol content from natural fermentation kills bacteria very efficiently. You can get 15 percent alcohol by volume in your wine without really working at it, and that's a life-saving formula.

4 Wine may have helped bring down the Roman Empire

We all know how much the Romans loved their wine; watch any gladiator movie, and you see the drink flowing.

Over the years, historians have postulated that the Romans' practice of boiling ingredients for wine in lead pots contributed to lead poisoning in the ruling class. The Romans would boil unfermented grape juice to concentrate the sugar, then they would add the sweet syrup to lower quality wines and sell them to the rich.

Lead poisoning causes brain damage and infertility, among other things.

Certainly not every historian buys into this theory, but wine-induced brain damage in the ruling class certainly couldn't have helped the empire in times of crisis.

5 Vatican City has the highest per capita wine consumption

According to Trade Data and Analysis, the 932 residents of Vatican City consumed more than 70 liters (18.5 gallons) of wine per capita in 2009, followed by Luxembourg, whose 500,000 residents drank 54 liters (14.3 gallons) per capita.

Granted, the low populations of these countries push those ratios higher. And it's fair to say that no children live within the borders of Vatican City. But there are smaller countries such as Andorra and the Cayman Islands who come in lower on that list.

So what's the deal? Remember that the sacramental wine is a cornerstone of ceremony in the Catholic Church. With that in mind, if Vatican City ever dropped out of first place, that would be the bigger story.

6 The wine cork is not for smelling

The cork is actually for examining.

If you have the good fortune to sit down in a restaurant with a wine steward, you're not going to make a great impression by sniffing the cork when he hands it to you.

In truth, he's presenting you the cork to examine. Check to see if it's all in one piece; a fragmented or moldy cork might mean a lower quality wine.

With the best wines, the cork will display the date and other information, as well.

7 Women get drunker on wine than men

This is because women have less of an enzyme in the stomach to metabolize wine. Men have more of an enzyme that degrades alcohol, and, in general, men can safely consume twice the amount of alcohol as women because of this and other metabolic differences.

Of course, women enjoy more protection from alcohol-related liver disease if they simply eat while they drink.

So if you're going to open a bottle, maybe it's wise to keep some snacks on hand, too.

8 Most modern European wines are derived from American Vines

The English passion for botany in Victorian times led to the importation of American grapes to botanical gardens. Those cuttings contained an insect that attacks the roots of grape vines. The bug spread throughout Europe and destroyed nearly all native vineyards.

Soon after the blight started, a botanist from Texas suggested grafting roots of American vines that are resistant to the pests onto the European vines. By some accounts, every plant in Europe was grafted. Of course, those vines also imported non-native mold and fungus to the European plants, and some native species went extinct.

Many wine experts continue to mourn the loss of the fully native European grapes

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