A few years ago I wrote an article for Easter on what the wines were like in Jesus’ time. It got me a little hate mail, so I thought in the spirit of controversy I would write somewhat of a follow up for Easter this year. Afterall, you already know what kind of wine to pair with your deviled eggs, right?
A couple of years ago while traveling 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. She is best known for her books on vampires. I don’t think that she saw Jesus as a vampire, but was trying out a whole new genre. I don’t think it was too successful, because she’s back to writing vampire stuff again.
Anyway, 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. This struck me as a little crazy, thinking that better wines would be sweet in flavor. In today’s world everyone would scoff at that.
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. 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.
Everyone knows that Jesus died on a cross. He was stripped and whipped. A crown of thorns shoved into his skull. He was pierced with a sword. But, the last insult that he had to endure was being given wine that had turned to vinegar.
With all that said, I propose that while you’re eating your lamb chops you propose a toast to Jesus with a glass of sweet wine this Easter.