Saturday, April 3, 2010

WWJD? (What Would Jesus Drink?)

Rather than have an article this week on what to pair with your deviled eggs, I’ve decided to ponder briefly on what ancient wines tasted like, and what kind of wine Jesus would have considered good wine.

Just a few months ago while traveling to Hawaii to photograph some clients I purchased a book by one of my favorite authors, Ann Rice. Ann is an amazing “period” writer. This means that she does extensive research prior to writing any book, and is very accurate in her detailed descriptions of scenes. In one scene she details a relative of Jesus paying off Roman soldiers with what they consider to be really good wine that was sweet.

Knowing the research that Mrs. Rice does in her writings led me to do more research myself on “What Would Jesus drink?”. After all, I know that Jesus was a pretty serious amateur sommelier and enologist. He spoke on the subject many times, and his first public miracle was making a pretty big batch of the “best” stuff.

So, what would Jesus drink? History shows that there were both red and white wild varietals growing in Macedonia and Rome back around 1 A.D.. Vines were trained around trees to keep them off of the ground, and slaves would have to climb up in the trees to prune the vines and harvest.

There are several writings by Cato during this period on winemaking, including how much you could work a slave in the vineyard, and how to best store wine after fermentation. He mistakenly suggested keeping ample headroom in the jars, which would have caused oxidation, turning the wine into vinegar quickly.

Unlike Cato, Jesus suggested that winemakers use new wineskins to make new wine, rather than old ones. The wineskin would have been swollen, with no air touching the wine. This would have produced a much higher quality product.

So, what was considered “Good” wine? Well, I can say that most of my friends would be very disappointed with the wine choices of yester year. Wine that people in Jesus’ time considered good was sweet. They didn’t have the ability to age wines well in many cases, so wines were often consumed within the next year after the vintage. There was a very high bounty though in Rome and Greece on older vintages. Surrentines were famous for being stored as much as 25 years.

Along with being sweet, most of the wines produced in that age were combined with spices or herbs. Lavender, resin, and other flavorings were often used producing a mulled or Vermouth flavored wine. Jesus may have enjoyed a wine that was some type of mixture between today’s version of Riesling and a decent Madiera.

With all that said, I propose that while you’re eating your lamb chops and smashed red potatoes you propose a toast to the ancient winemakers with a glass of sweet white wine this Easter. Once that glass of “good” wine is gone, you can go back to drinking the lesser stuff, like a really nice Zinfandel or Cabernet!

Happy Easter!


  1. Good one Rich! Does the winery who must not be named make wine as it was made in 1 AD?

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