What Would Jesus Drink?

One day I call a friend in San Francisco, the most erudite oenophiliac guy you ever met, a guy who knows more about wine and wine history and wine culture and wine production and wine marketing and wine details and wine quality and lack thereof than anyone in the whole wild world, and I say Hey Gerald, here’s a poser for you that’s always niggled at me: What wines would have been in those big jars at the wedding in Cana, and what wines would have been near Christ’s elbow at the Last Supper?

A difficult question to answer, he says. But if we put together what we know about wine in the ancient world, and what we know about some wine practices in the same areas today, we might conclude that it was common to allow the grapes to dry slightly before they were crushed and fermented, raising the potential alcohol content to a level that would help prevent spoilage, concentrate the acidity so the pH would be lowered and prevent bacterial activity, and probably leave some residual sugar, always welcome in the ancient world-caloric content, you know, for the energy needed for constant physical labor. The ancients, you will remember, did not have alcohol to fortify their wines-the Arabs invented distillation much later-and keeping wines wholesome once a jar was opened must have been a problem.

Let me further speculate, said my friend, that whatever was happening in Phoenicia, where winemaking skill originated, was...

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About the Author

Brian Doyle is the editor of Portland magazine at the University of Portland.