You May Soon Be Able to Drink the Ancient Wines That Jesus Christ and King David Drank

Eliyashiv Drori, an Ariel University oenologist who heads the research that aims to identify and recreate ancient wines, worked in the foothills of Jerusalem in October 2012. (Rina Castelnuovo for The New York Times)
Eliyashiv Drori, an Ariel University oenologist who heads the research that aims to identify and recreate ancient wines, worked in the foothills of Jerusalem in October 2012. (Rina Castelnuovo for The New York Times)

The new crisp, acidic and mineral white from a high-end Israeli winery was aged for eight months — or, depending on how you look at it, at least 1,800 years.

The wine, called marawi and released last month by Recanati Winery, is the first commercially produced by Israel’s growing modern industry from indigenous grapes. It grew out of a groundbreaking project at Ariel University in the occupied West Bank that aims to use DNA testing to identify — and recreate — ancient wines drunk by the likes of King David and Jesus Christ.

 

Eliyashiv Drori, the Ariel oenologist who heads the research, traces marawi (also called hamdani) and jandali grapes to A.D. 220 based on a reference in the Babylonian Talmud.

“All our scriptures are full with wine and with grapes — before the French were even thinking about making wine, we were exporting wine,” he said. “We have a very ancient identity, and for me, reconstructing this identity is very important. For me, it’s a matter of national pride.”

The redevelopment of local varietals, however — like so many things in this contested land — is not free of political friction. It comes alongside contentious new labeling guidelines by the European Union requiring that wines from the West Bank and the Golan Heights carry a label saying they were made in Israeli settlements. And Palestinians have their own ownership claims on these grapes.

For Israeli winemakers, the search for old-new varietals is an opportunity to distinguish their wares in a competitive global marketplace where they harbor little hope of improving on, say, chardonnay from France. Archaeologists and geneticists are testing new methods for analyzing charred ancient seeds. In the endless struggle between Israelis and Palestinians, it is a quest to underscore Jewish roots in the holy land.

But Recanati is not the first to sell wine from these grapes. Cremisan, a small winery near Bethlehem where Palestinians partner with Italian monks, has been using hamdani, jandali and other local fruit since 2008.

“As usual in Israel, they declare that falafel, tehina, tabouleh, hummus and now jandali grapes are an Israeli product,” Amer Kardosh, Cremisan’s export director, sniped in an email. “I would like to inform you that these types of grapes are totally Palestinian grapes grown on Palestinian vineyards.”

Yes, but the Palestinian farms that sold the grapes to Recanati have insisted on anonymity, for fear of backlash over working with Israelis, or just helping make wine, which is generally forbidden in Islam. Recanati, for its part, embraced the heritage, using Arabic on marawi’s label and hiring an Arab-Israeli singer to perform at its October unveiling to 50 select sommeliers.

The vintner, Ido Lewinsohn, said his product is “clean and pure of any political influence,” adding of the grapes: “These are not Israeli; they are not Palestinian. They belong to the region — this is something beautiful.”

Wine presses have been uncovered in Israel — and the West Bank — that date to biblical times. But winemaking was outlawed after Muslims conquered the holy land in the seventh century. When Baron Edmond de Rothschild, an early Zionist and scion of a famed Bordeaux winery, helped restart the local craft in the 1880s, he brought fruit from France.

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SOURCE: The New York Times
Jodi Rudoren

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