Is Wine the Source of Civilization? John Mahoney Thinks So and Here’s Why



John J. Mahoney is a Certified Wine Educator and a Literature Professor. He is the author of eight books, including his most recent, Wine: The Source of Civilization and he is Chancellor of the Dionysian Society International, a member of the American Wine Society, a Chevalerie du Verre Galant (Knights of Cognac), President of New Jersey Club Zinfandel, Director of the Tri-State Wine College, and the voice of “Weekend Wine Tips.” A respected scholar of Shakespeare and Chaucer, he uses classic educational techniques when teaching about wine. He hosts corporate wine seminars and is presently the World Ambassador for the Grand Vin wine glass series for Chef & Sommelier.



  • How did students’ questions influence the writing of Wine: The Source of Civilization?
  • What did John learn from a young Masai about grape vines in Kenya?
  • How early did man start making and drinking wine?
  • What role did legends and tales play in John’s journey of learning about the origin of wine?
  • How did John develop his theory of when man first discovered wine?
  • How did fermented wine tie into the growth of commerce in early civilizations?
  • Is there a link between historical literature and real-life events?
  • What is the connection between wine and theology?
  • How did John’s research lead to his travel to so many countries around the world?
  • What was the most surprising fact that John learned while researching his book?
  • What made John make the transition from literature professor to wine educator?
  • What is the main message of Wine: The Source of Civilisation?
  • How have John and his wife brought wine into their anniversary celebrations over the years?
  • Which was the first wine variety to be identified?
  • What is the oldest wine that John has had?
  • What is John’s favourite gadget for opening old wine bottles that may have a dry cork?
  • How can you start your own wine collection?
  • What advice would John give to his 30-year-old self about wine?
  • Who would John love to share a bottle of wine with?




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Transcript & Takeaways

Welcome to episode 21! In today’s episode, we’re chatting with the author John Mahoney who has written several books on wine, but we’ll be focusing on his latest: Is Wine the Source of Civilization?

Spoiler alert, the answer is yes. But the more interesting question is why? He has some fascinating answers, plus some of the best practical tips on enjoying wine that I’ve ever heard. One has to do with temperature … keep listening for that one towards the end of our chat. Enjoy!


You also can watch the video interview with John that includes bonus content and behind-the-scenes pictures and questions and answers that weren’t included in this podcast.


Here are my takeaways from this discussion:

  1. I admire John’s deep curiosity about wine, and how it was his students’ questions that became the basis for his latest book. He’s so adept at taking their questions, such as Sir John Falstaff’s sack or sherry, and weaving it into the context of the humanities. I’ve always believed that you could do a liberal arts degree with wine as the central hub, as it connects to literature, art, history, geography, commerce and other fields.
  2. It surprised me that wine is much older than we thought, as old as 8,000 years or just after the last Ice Age. That makes sense given that grape juice is prone to spontaneous fermentation with wild yeast in the air.
  3. I loved his story about noticing small things like the direction in which the vines curve around the trellis the way fluids circle down the drain depending on your hemisphere.
  4. I also loved the point that the Romans, who were famous for making wine and introducing it to other nations that they conquered, actually learned about ageing wine from the Egyptians. This also reminds me of the sacred geometry and the pyramids that we discussed with vegan winemaker Ezra Cipes on episode 9. Check that out if you missed it.
  5. John gives us one of the best tips ever for appreciating wine: try two glasses of the same wine side by side, one at room temperature and the other fridge cold. It makes a world of difference in terms of the aromas and flavours you’ll perceive and other aspects from tannin to alcohol. Try it.
  6. Did you know that you can now listen to this podcast on your smart speaker? Just say: “Hey Google” or “Alexa — play the Unreserved Wine Talk podcast.” I’d love to chat about wine with you while you’re doing the dishes, the laundry, having breakfast, lunch or dinner … it’s always wine time.

You’ll find links to the wines we discuss, John’s books, social media links, and website as well as the gadgets he mentions and a link to the video edition of this chat so that you can see the Durant corkscrew in the show notes at

What was your favourite tip or quote from this episode? Share that with me on Twitter or Facebook and tag me @nataliemaclean, on Instagram I’m @nataliemacleanwine.

If you liked this episode, please tell a friend about it. My podcast is easy to find, whether you search on its name Unreserved Wine Talk, or my name.

Finally, if you want to take your ability to pair wine and food to the next level, join me in a free online video class at

My next guest on the show will be Californian winemaker Randall Graham of Bonny Doon winery who blends wit and wisdom unlike any other person in the wine world. You won’t want to miss it.



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