Ancestral wine drinkers

Turns out we primates have enjoyed wine for a long, long time, and some of us have been able to enjoy more of it than others.

Wine’s history dates back to when fruit-bearing trees first appeared 100 million years ago. Fruit is ideal fermentation vessel. Sweet ripe fruit swollen with microbes consuming sugars and producing carbon dioxide and alcohol lures all kinds of eaters of sugar. Sugar is fruit’s success secret: “come hither,” eat me, scatter my seeds.

Alcohol buzz seems secondary lure, but a variety of mammals indulge. Elephants drunk on rice wine rampage in India. Swedish moose got so snockered on apple wine, it got stuck in an apple tree until rescued. Those animals, however, are cheap drunks.

About 10 million years ago, some of our forebears took it to next level when a gene—ADH4—mutated to created an enzyme that metabolizes alcohol 40 times more efficiently. With that mutation, happy hour lights turned on for common ancestors of chimpanzees, gorillas, and humans.

Why? Scientists hypothesize the adaptation allowed the animals to eat and drink foods others could not tolerate as well. They did not get drunk as easily, and were—thus—less susceptible to predators. Rotting, sugar-and-alcohol infused fruit became a food they exploited more safely than other fruit eaters.

More than 9,000 years ago, human beings moved from foraging rotting fruit to deliberately producing wine. If someone asks why you enjoy wine, say your ancestors used it as a survival tool for millions of years, and today you use it for same reason.

Tasting notes:

• Gallo Family Vineyards Red Moscato NV: Sweet, clean; cranberry, red berries, citrus slice, peach; not sophisticated, but refreshing easy drinker; people who don’t like wine will enjoy; wine drinkers can sip without shame. $5

• River Bend Cellars Sasquatch Red NV: Vivid fruit—blackberry, plum, black cherry; puckering tannin, balancing acidity, lingering finish; tasty, not for fainthearted or newbies to big red wines. $19

• Sean Minor Point North Pinot Noir 2013: Dark fruit, raspberry, blackberry, strawberry, leather, spice; restrained oak, medium body, soft tannin, smooth bright mouth; nice price Oregon pinot. $20

Last round: Wine does not cure the flu, but it fails more agreeably than any other method.

Email Gus at Follow tasting notes on Twitter @gusclemens. Website: Facebook: Gus Clemens on Wine.