Wine Trash and Treasure Reveal Lost City of Winemaking's Ancient Secrets

Plus, a new study finds that aging cheeses prefer old-school hip-hop; and "important VC newsletter" Wine Spectator included in $500 VC Starter Kit, with Tesla keychain
Wine Trash and Treasure Reveal Lost City of Winemaking's Ancient Secrets
Courtesy of Guy Bar-Oz They were throwing away perfectly good shards! Scenes from the University of Haifa team's Elusa dig
Mar 28, 2019

Once famous across continents as a mecca for wine, the lost Byzantine-era city of Elusa fell off the map somewhere along the way. Did it succumb to unsustainable boom-and-bust cycles of vineyard real-estate prices? A nagging reputation for low-quality mass-market wine? Cork taint? Islamic conquest? It had long been something of a mystery. But now researchers have begun to shed more light on the shadowy city, and their findings are trash … literally.

A recent archaeological dig of garbage mounds in the Elusa complex, located in the Negev desert in modern-day Israel, has revealed key elements that indicate how the city went into decline, and eventually disappeared. Elusa was a hub of wine production and trade in the late Roman Empire, and it was thought to have fallen with the rise of Islam in the region in the 7th century AD. The new bosses, went the reasoning, had little use for Elusa's elixirs.

But archaeologist Guy Bar-Oz and his team of researchers from the University of Haifa have dug up garbage showing that Elusa's trash collection system—a strong indicator of a city's wellbeing—ended much earlier than thought. Since this was wine country, plenty of the trash-treasure they found was discarded wine jugs and seeds from grapes and olives.

"This multidisciplinary archaeological investigation of trash mounds in the Negev Desert establishes the end date of organized trash management in the Byzantine-period city of Elusa and demonstrates urban collapse a century before the Islamic transition," Bar-Oz and co. wrote of their conclusions in a report published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. (Check it.)

So what caused the city's collapse? "Carbon dating of charred seeds and charcoal fragments combined with ceramic analysis establish the end date of orchestrated trash removal near the mid-6th century," which coincides with the beginning of the Late Antique Little Ice Age, (which was exactly what it sounds like, and plenty big enough to impact your vineyards and other food supplies) and outbreak of the Plague of Justinian (also bad), according to the report.

They say that in wine, there's truth, and today's lesson is that in wine trash there are answers.


Like Their Human Counterparts, Aging Cheeses Prefer Old-School Hip-Hop

If you're a hip-hop head, you obviously know A Tribe Called Quest, but unless you're also a cheesehead, you might not have caught their latest act: The group's final album, 2016's We Got It from Here ... Thank You 4 Your Service, was played to a very appreciative audience … of aging cheeses.

Courtesy of Bern University of Arts
"Play that funky music."—Cheese

In an experiment conducted by Switzerland's Bern University of Arts, researchers exposed each of its nine wheels of Emmental (you know, Swiss cheese) to a different music style—one wheel jammed out to Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven,” another to Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute—for a period of six months. Turns out Q-Tip and Phife Dawg were the best to do it, no matter how you slice it: After a jury of food experts taste-tested each of the cheeses twice, the consensus both times was that the "We Got It from Here" cheese tasted superior.

"The experiment was a success, and the results are amazing," the researchers wrote in a press release. "The bio-acoustic impact of sound waves affects metabolic processes in cheese, to the point where a discernible difference in flavor becomes apparent." The report concluded that the jazz-inflected rap–inflected Emmental stood out for its fruitier, stronger taste. And it does make sense that Emmental favored some of ATCQ's funkier stuff.


'Important VC Newsletter' Wine Spectator Included in $500 VC Starter Kit with Patagonia Fleece, Tesla Keychain

When something called the "VC Starter Kit" came to our attention, we were skeptical about investing our wine bitcoins. "It's never been easier to look like a VC," the website claims, and packages include gear like a Patagonia fleece vest, Allbirds sneakers ("a staple of Silicon Valley attire") and a Tesla keychain.

But we were swayed when we saw the "content" you get: the works of Yuval Harari, Peter Thiel and a subscription to none other than "important VC newsletter" Wine Spectator. Then we read on and saw accessories like blood transfusions from the young and "New Zealand farm, in case of pandemic," and realized it was all a big joke at the expense of befleeced Bezoids, plug-in car aficionados and us. Not ones to take an insult lying down, we decided to settle this with the VC Starter Kit people like real masters of the universe: by confronting them on Twitter.

VC Starter Kit
5 over 40

Creator Sumukh Sridhara emailed back to assure us that it's no joke (well, some joke)—he'll happily fill any orders for the basic starter kits (which start at $500) and donate the proceeds to All Raise, an organization that promotes diversity in tech. He also informed us that while some VCs quibbled with his stereotypical outfit, "no one has disputed the wine aspect of the pack."

Indeed, "wine collecting certainly has some similarity to what a VC does: spotting the few gems (among a crowded field) that will drastically increase in value while being able to show off your special access, taste and judgment," Sridhara noted. "It's a good idea for aspiring VCs to start planning for what winery you'd want to acquire when the IPO cash starts flowing back in, and what better way than subscribing to Wine Spectator?" That's why we write it, folks.


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