Ancient Vine Varieties

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Wine

Oxford Companion to Wine

By Jancis Robinson

Published 2006

  • About

theophrastus (c.370–c.287 bc) remarked that there were as many kinds of grapes as there were kinds of soil (Historia plantarum 2. 5. 7; also De causis plantarum 4. 11. 6). He does not elaborate, but his remark shows how difficult it is to discuss vine varieties in the classical world. Are varieties that classical authors describe as different really different varieties, or are they examples of the same variety behaving differently in different conditions? Soil is only one factor; climate and winemaking methods are others. We cannot resort to tasting samples or nursery specimens; all we possess are classical texts written by authors who were not modern, scientifically trained ampelographers.