How alcoholic was wine in antiquity?

It’s possibly a question you’ve asked yourself. Wine in ancient Greece and Rome is often referred to as being cut with water, rather than drunk neat (as we do). One ide from this is that it was because the wine had a higher alcoholic content.

Not so according to Dr Emlyn Dodd (@emlynkd).

Dr Dodd argues that the conditions available to those in antiquity weren’t conducive to higher % rates. Wild yeast strains won’t convert alcohol much past 6% and even with good conditions you’d find 15% a challenge. This is with a modern setup in mind. A top rate of 18% would need pre-treated grapes and specialist knowledge.

In antiquity the variables mentioned were even less easy to control. Even if you did get the alcoholic levels that high it would taste awful and spoil very easily. In short a highly alcoholic wine wasn’t something that had the necessary technologies to ensure its creation and even then it wasn’t something you’d want to create.

As Dr Dodd concludes, wine in antiquity would have varied from the levels of a strong dry wine to much lower (perhaps for the lower classes).

I’ll be looking into wine for a podcast later this year. Till then enjoy this bizarre poster which I stumbled on.