Speed Reads

ancient wines

Scientists hope to turn ancient grape DNA into wines drunk by King David, Jesus

Israeli vintners have tapped into their ancient heritage to create wines 1,800 years in the making. Using money from the Jewish National Fund, oenologist Eliyashiv Drori and a group of scientists at Ariel University's research winery have identified 120 grape varieties distinct to Israel, around 20 of which are suitable for making wine, The New York Times reports. Other researchers have used DNA and a three-dimensional scanner to identify around 70 distinct grape varieties from Biblical times; their goal is to pair the ancient seeds with live grapes and, eventually, to genetically engineer and revive the lost varieties.

But enough about history — how does the resulting wine actually taste?

Itay Gleitman, the wine writer for Haaretz, called marawi "this year's most important Israeli wine," for its provenance, if not taste. He said it was "pleasant and easy-to-drink," and "opens slightly in the glass with gentle aromas of apple and peach." And, if expressly cultivated for winemaking, has potential that "piques the imagination."

Next up is dabouki, also white, which the well-known Israeli vintner Avi Feldstein plans to debut along with his new winery in a couple of months. Dabouki might be the oldest of the local varieties, a good candidate for what filled the glass of Jesus (who Mr. Drori believes drank white as well as red). [The New York Times]

Grape specimens are identified as "wine grapes" through extensive field research — say, finding grapes in a destroyed Jewish temple next to clay shards labeled "smooth wine" in an ancient Hebraic language, or picking out 10th century B.C. seeds from donkey droppings in a King Solomon-era copper mine. So far, however, the wine yields have remained relatively low — Recanati Winery produced only 2,480 bottles of the 2014 marawi — due in part to the difficulty obtaining the grapes, which are grown on Palestinian farms where workers face potential backlash for collaborating with Israelis or helping to make alcohol, which is typically forbidden in Islam.

But others dislike politicizing the ancient beverage. "These are not Israeli; they are not Palestinian. They belong to the region — this is something beautiful," vintner Ido Lewinsohn said.