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  • Writer's pictureSanto Vino


Updated: May 28, 2023

Some scholars believe that the word wine has roots in Semitic languages. However, if the Indo-European vinum – wine in Latin – was borrowed from Arabic wain and Hebrew yayin, the same word definitely owes a lot to Georgian ghvini (or ghvino) while old English win, German wein, French vin, the Italian vino and dozens of other wyn, vyn, wijn alike European words, all descended from the Latin vinum. The Georgian word ghvini goes back to Proto-Kartvelian (South Caucasian) which maybe, in turn, borrowed from the Proto-Armenian gini.

Moreover, the ancient Greek word for wine - oinos - probably descended from the Proto-Hellenic woinos further reinforcing the hypothesis that all words for wine that exist today in most Indo-European and Semitic languages originate from a common source for both the beverage and its name. It could therefore be said that the root of the word wine is likely Georgian, borrowed by both Indo-European and Semitic language-speaking peoples who later disseminated it directly, or through mediating languages, wherever they migrated in the following millennia.

The etymology of the words wine does really makes sense because it corroborates what we know about the origin of the grapevine itself, domesticated approximately 6,000 to 8,000 years ago also in the Fertile Crescent - an area south of Caucasus and West of the Caspian Sea encompassing Georgia and Armenia - home, in ancient times, of Semites groups and starting point of the main diffusion routes of viticulture to Southern Europe and Middle East.

Thus, from the Caucasus - which has been long considered as the primary origin of viticulture on the basis of archeological, botanical and bio-molecular studies - it appears that the name, production and trade of wine gradually but simultaneously spread west to Anatolia, Thrace and Greece and southeast to Mesopotamia, eastern Mediterranean Palestine and Egypt.

The expansion of wine culture was also facilitated by Phoenician merchants who, from 2,700 B.C. to 350 B.C., traded by sea extensively across all the Mediterranean basin from all their city-states based along Syria, Lebanon and Palestine.

In the last decades archaeo-botanists discovered ample evidence of wine production - dating 4,000 to 1,500 B.C. - in other locations than Caucasus such as Eastern Turkey (Can Hasan), Iran (Zagros Mountains), Azarbaijian (Hajji Firuz Tepe), Sicily (Monte Kronio, Agrigento) and Sardinia (Cabras, Oristano). An island, the latter, where the local Nuragic culture was already producing and consuming binu (vino, wine) long before entering in contact with the Phoenicians.

So while in Sicily and Sardinia's wine had already been produced and consumed for thousands years, in Central Italy Etruscan wine culture flourished as early as the 9th Century B.C. They called their wine vinum - written from right to left as in the image below - and they traded it with all Italic people inhabiting the Peninsula including Corsica island in the Tyrrenian Sea, establishing trading relationships with Phoenicians, Egyptians and Greeks. Around the 7th Century B.C. Latins were celebrating their wine-feasts in honor of the native god Liber, an ancient Italic deity of germination and agriculture, when Rome was just about to be founded and ancient Greeks were starting to call Italy Oenotria, "the land of the vine".

As more light is shed on the origins of wine and viticulture many authors are now convinced that secondary grapevine domestication centers have risen in multiple Southern European locations independently from the primary Caucasus dawning.

No matter what, the production and consumption of wine has eventually globally evolved through its thousands of years historical path and it is today intrinsically part of people's life worldwide.

Vinum has changed its nature from magic potion, intoxicating beverage and healthier substitute of water into a global cultural complement of food, a social tool for conviviality and a high expression of quality lifestyle. The association of wine with gastronomy, history, tradition, origin, local quality products and dignified social settings it is today indissoluble.

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