Who made the first wine, and where? How do so many flavors and aromas come from grapes? What did ancient wine taste like, and what does the future hold for wine lovers?
Apalachicola resident Kevin Begos, a former MIT Knight Science Journalism Fellow and former AP correspondent, was inspired to seek answers to these questions after a chance encounter with an obscure vintage made near Jerusalem. He began investigating the mysterious vineyard and quickly found himself caught up in a viticultural detective story—complete with false leads, DNA evidence, and rare grapes hidden in remote valleys and plains across the world.
“I started to realize how little I really understood about the origins of wine, and set out to learn,” he said.
The result is "Tasting the Past: The Science of Flavor & the Search for the Origins of Wine," which chronicles Begos’s journey along the original wine routes - starting in the Caucasus Mountains, where wine was first domesticated 8,000 years ago, then down to Israel and across the Mediterranean to Greece, Italy, France, and finally to America, where vintners are transforming local wine culture by cultivating heirloom grapes with new, diverse flavors.
Among the many insights readers will learn from Begos’ extensive research and in-depth interviews:
• How scientists are decoding grape DNA (much like they did when mapping the human genome) to chart the family tree of wine.
• How DNA analysis, mass spectrometry, liquid chromatography, and other high-tech tools are helping winemakers rediscover rare native grapes and rescue them from the brink of extinction.
• How archaeobiologists in Milan brought Leonardo da Vinci’s lost vineyard back to life.
• How scientists in Israel are rediscovering native grapes of the Holy Land.
• How some wineries are creating synthetic wines—made without grapes—to replicate expensive bottles.
Along the way, Begos, now an enthusiastic oenophile, provides recommendations for wines that go far beyond the endless bottles of Chardonnay and Merlot found in most stores and restaurants. He explores the deeply ingrained industry tradition to promote 10 “top” varieties of wine (think Cabernet, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, etc.), and thus preventing consumers from discovering the incredible flavors created from hundreds of other wine grapes found in lesser-known parts of the world.
For fans of Bianca Bosker’s "Cork Dork," "Michael Pollan’s The Botany of Desire," and the works of Mark Kurlansky, Tasting the Past is a smart, engaging, and accessible read that perfectly blends science, history, culture, and gastronomy.