Restoring the Wine Jesus and King David Drank

Restoring the Wine Jesus and King David Drank

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 that aims to use DNA testing to identify — and recreate — ancient wines drunk by the likes of King David and Jesus Christ.

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. Dr. Drori is 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.”

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. Today, Israel’s 350 wineries produce 65 million bottles a year.

Researchers have identified 70 distinct regional grape varieties, using DNA and a three-dimensional scanner that has never before been successfully employed this way, from burned and dried seeds found in archaeological digs. The idea is to match such ancient seeds with the live grapes, or someday perhaps to engineer fruit “Jurassic Park” style.

Then there is proving that the old specimens were actually used for wine, not snacks. Mr. Drori points to one set that was recovered near the site of the destroyed Jewish temples alongside a shard of clay marked in an ancient Hebraic script, “smooth wine.”

He believes seeds found in donkey droppings in Timna — where copper mines date to King Solomon’s era, the 10th century B.C. — must have come from pomace, the residue left after winemaking, since animals would not have been fed fresh fruit.

He also cites a Talmudic reference to a sage who lived in A.D. 220 that mentioned “gordali or hardali wine.” That was picked up by a 16th-century scholar who used slightly different names, jindali and hamdani, and described jindali as “soft to chew and the wine weak,” hamdani as “hard to chew and their wine strong” — characteristics similar to those of their descendants today.

Given the difficulty of procuring the grapes from Palestinian farmers, Recanati produced just 2,480 bottles of the 2014 marawi, which is available in only about 10 Tel Aviv restaurants. The winery has about 4,000 bottles of 2015 marawi aging and hopes to soon plant its own vineyard to expand and refine the brand.

Original Source: New York Times