Ancient Wine Cellar Uncovered In the Middle East

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A wine cellar in Napa, a wine cellar in France, a wine cellar in Israel?

While Israel and the rest of the Middle East certainly aren’t on our modern day wine maps, they used to be. A recent discovery by a team of researchers highlights the importance that wine once had in the region.

Earlier this summer, the remains of 40 large wine jugs were found in the Canaanite palace of Tel Kabri, in the northwestern part of modern-day Israel.

“What’s fascinating about what we have here is that it is part of a household economy,” lead author, an archaeologist at Brandeis University, told Smithsonian. “This was the patriarch’s personal wine cellar. The wine was not meant to be given away as part of a system of providing for the community. It was for his own enjoyment and the support of his authority.”

One day the patriarch was enjoying his glass of wine and the next, he and his wine cellar were destroyed by an earthquake. Or at least, that’s one possible explanation. “Having a Middle Bronze Age palace isn’t all that unusual,” says Koh. “But this palace was destroyed toward 1600 B.C.—possibly by an earthquake—and then it goes unoccupied.”

The 40 vessels, in what researchers believe to be the wine cellar, could have held up to 528 gallons total; enough to fill up 3,000 bottles of wine. So how do they know that the jugs held wine? Samples that were brought back to the lab in Massachusetts had traces of tartaric acid, which is one of the main acids found in wine. On top of that, all but three of the jars had syringic acid, a compound associated with red wine.

But that’s not all. Residue in the jars also showed that their had been various additives, like herbs, berries and maybe even honey, some of which would have been used for preservation. “This is a relatively sophisticated drink,” says Koh. “Somebody was sitting there with years if not generations of experience saying this is what best preserves the wine and makes it taste better.”

While there’s a rich history of wine in the region, nowadays local winemaking has all but died out. “Celebrated wines used to come from this region, but local wine making was wiped out with the arrival of Muslim cultures [in the 7th century A.D.],” says Koh.

As the researchers continue to study the area, they just might get closer to learning more about the native grapes that made the winemaking in that region flourish, in turn, putting just a little more history into your glass.

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Image: We Love Costa Del Sol

Anna Brones

Anna Brones is a writer who focuses on food, travel and culture. Taking a holistic approach to eating, she believes in good food, from good places, with good people. She runs the website Foodie Underground and is the author of The Culinary Cyclist: A Cookbook and Companion for the Good Life.