Wine has been produced by humans for several thousands of years. There is evidence of wine production taking place in Georgia as early as 6000 BC and in China; up to 7000 BC. The oldest evidence of wine production from grapes has been found in sites in China, Georgia, Iran, and also places like Sicily and Armenia.
Throughout its history wine has been considered a means to manage health; whether by being prescribed as a medication or by ingesting it as a daily preventative measure to promote health. Wine has also been used to mask the flavours of ingredients that physicians prescribed. An Egyptian document; the Ebers Medical Papyrus, dating back as far as 1550 BC; contained suggestions for curing a great number of illnesses with a horde of elixirs, most of which feature wine as their main ingredient. It was used for more than just masking flavours, it was also acknowledged to have medical benefits as well.
It was often recommended for consumption and also topically for dressing wounds by both the Greek, Hippocraties of Cos in (460 BC), and also by the Roman, Galen (130 AD).
The daily benefits of wine were postulated by Marcus Porcius Cato in his 160 BC work de Agricultura. In this he stated that “the proper amount of wine per year for a man should be about seven amphorae” he added the caveat that “for the slaves working in chains one must add more in proportion to the work they are doing. It is not too much if they drink ten amphorae of wine apiece in a year.” The idea of labourers drinking wine to maintain good health is commonly found throughout antiquity and lends credence to the role of wine as a type of ancient health drink.
Rufus of Ephesus, a Greek physician from the late first century AD, further reinforced the daily benefits of wine in detail and explained that wine clarifies the blood, opens up the veins, and clears obstruction of the liver. He further highlighted its power in rectifying the ingestion of bad foods. He claimed that medicinal benefits were greatly enhanced for the older population as he postulated that people become colder and drier with age and are thus more in need of wine’s warming and moistening effects.
Considering the contemporary belief that red wines have greater health benefits due to resveratrol, found in tannic red wines, it is notable that the ancient authors and physicians felt differently.
Amongst these were; Corippus who wrote of wines served in Constantinople around 566 AD and described the Ascalon wines as both white and light. These same Ascalon wines were the focus of medicinal elixirs and were administered to Emperor Julian by his physician Oribasius (c.320 – 400 AD). Cassius Felix’s Latin translations of Greek medical writings (447 AD) also called for the use of Ascalon wine and so did the writings of Alexander of Tralles (b. 525 AD).
In De Vinis, written in the late Middle Ages and ascribed to Arnau de Vilanova, it is stated that there are two categories of wine with which to create theriacs, “white and good.” Simply put, light white wine was thought to be the best conduit of drugs’ properties and therefore was best suited for medicinal purposes. “Good” wine was most often considered to mean “Greek” wine and in many instances this meant sweet and strong wines such as Vernage, also a white wine. However, these wines were thought to be too strong for use as medicine or medicinal conduits unless the person’s constitution necessitated their drug-like properties. They were believed to cause harm to the patient as they couldn’t properly serve as the vehicle for the substances added to them. “Good” wines were, however, thought to serve certain purposes with different variations, such as performing as a laxative with the addition of prunes. Due to their high nutrient levels, these “good” wines were thought to produce good blood, regenerate the natural virtues, and strengthen the constitution of weakened bodies.
This work, De Vinis, went so far as to advise that people avoid tannic wines, despite any value they may have.
Wines have always been believed to provide health benefits, whether they acted as topical or ingested medicines or functioned as historical health drinks, but the belief that only tannic wines provide benefits is a modern concept that has just been shaken by this most recent study. White wines were seen as powerful health tonics in the past, so, perhaps these findings concerning resveratrol will lead back to appreciating the benefits of white wines as praised by Oribasius, Cassius Felix, Alexander of Tralles and Arnau de Vilanova.
South African Wine Lover