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Two tippling wine-related discoveries


It's been a good week for wine science. 

Last Friday, archaeologists working in the ruins of a 3,700 year old Canaanite city in Israel announced the discovery of a massive wine cellar --  the biggest, oldest ever found in the Near East. 

The cellar held 40 50-litre jars, enough wine to sate 3,500 Canaanites (assuming those Canaanites were limiting themselves to four drinks per night per person, in keeping within Canada's Low-Risk Alcohol Drinking Guidelines, of course.)

Organic residue analysis of the jar fragments turned up evidence of mint, honey, cinnamon bark, juniper berries and resins, which sounds more like they were drinking some kind of gross mulled wine, but whatever.

Andrew Koh, a Brandeis University professor who was part of the research team, also noted that the chemical composition of the wine was remarkably uniform from jar to jar.

"This wasn't moonshine that someone was brewing in their basement," Koh said in a statement released by Brandeis announcing the find. 

Then, on Monday, a study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences seemed to unlock some of the mystery of terroir, the mutable combination of soil, climate and geography that according to wine snobs gives a vintage its distinctive flavour.

The researchers showed that grape "microbial biogeography" -- the communities of microbes that live on particular grapes in particular places -- are linked across varietals and locations. An Ontario pinot noir, say, would boast a very different set of microbes than an Australian shiraz (although the American study only examined California grapes).

The study suggests that the intangible thing sommeliers describe as "terroir" is really just the downstream effects of a particular community of microbes lingering on the harvested grapes. 

 If anyone ever said booze and science don't go together, and it's not clear anyone ever said that, they were wrong.


Kate Allen is the Star's science and technology reporter. Find her on Twitter at @katecallen.




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