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10.28.2005

Pharaohs Prefer Red

sennefer.jpgWe've known that the Egyptians had wine for a long time. If the funky jars with wax stoppers and grapey residue in them weren't enough, we had the gorgeous tomb paintings from the Tombs of Sennefer in the Valley of The Nobles in Luxor, Egypt showing in vivid color the growing, harvesting, mashing, and fermenting of grapes into wine. In fact, the specific paintings I'm talking about were some of the most beautiful and vivid tomb paintings that we saw anywhere in Egypt when Ruth and I were there this past May. Wine, which experts believe was introduced from Canaan several thousand years B.C., was a big deal for the Egyptians, so much so that it seems that it was a drink reserved for royalty.

One of the things that we have never know, strangely, is whether the Pharaohs drank red or white wine. This is because up until recently, the means did not exist to distinguish between residues of red and white wine. We knew it was wine, but we didn't know what color. I guess this tells us also that red wine stains come out after about 6000 years -- good news for some of us who spill a lot of it.

Now however, thanks to some advances in chemical analysis, we have learned that the ancient Egyptians indeed drank red wine. Not just any Egyptians either, but the most famous (to most of the word) King Tut. Yep, the Boy King went to the afterlife with several cases of his best stuff, carefully labeled by vintage year, vineyard, and winemaker.

The next trick will be, of course, to figure out just what varietal he was drinking. I've got my money on Pinot. for Tut's sake I hope it was better than modern Egyptian reds. If not, he may be one eternally unhappy dude.

Comments (3)

Terry Hughes wrote:
10.29.05 at 3:46 PM

Maybe they were imported. Grands crus classes from Canaan or Syria.

BTS I just read a rather hefty scholarly tome that detailed the drinking habits of Egyptioans. The upper classes drank vino. The common folk swilled down a lot of beer...

Terry Hughes wrote:
10.29.05 at 3:48 PM

Sorry for the spellings. I'm not drunk yet but have been babysitting a 9-month old all day...whew, I do need a drink...

Aidan Maconachy wrote:
10.29.05 at 10:11 PM

I have an interest in ancient Egypt, and yes wine making appears to have been a going concern.

The grapes were gathered as a rule in late June/early July (the Egyptian month of Piphi). They used presses of course so it was a fairly primitive procedure ... with vats underneath to collect the juice.

The partly fermented juice was put into amphorae and allowed to age.

The comment in the lead post about jars with "grapey residue" is interesting. These markings may have remained visible over the centuries because they had a practice of adding resin to the wine - to improve flavor and also to act as a preservative.

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