Tombs, Trellises and Troughs

Wine history is in Egypt is painted on the walls of the ancient Tombs. Thus we can visualize the vineyards along the Nile where the western bank of the river was the best area for planting vines. Terrace were built on higher grand to protect the vineyards from flooding. Most of the vines were grown on trellises. In the tomb of Khaemwaset, who was buried around 1480 B.C., murals show grapes growing on vine pergolas to create shade and enable the workers to harvest standing rather than bending in the heat.

The grapes are shown being crushed by human feet treading on them in shallow troughs. The wine making continues allowing the grapes to ferment in clay amphorae sealed with clay. For the first time we find that jars are carefully labeled or stamped with the name of the estate and the winemaker. In some tombs there are paintings of the wine press, the filtering system and juice being boiled to concentrate the flavor in a sweet grape syrup.

Wine was transported to cities, celebrations and to tombs so the amphorae developed a new form. The clay jars became taller and thinner with pointed bases so they could be placed in boxes full of sand to reduce the chance of breakage while being transferred to a new location. The quality of wine improved with the innovation of making the necks of the clay jars very narrow so there was less exposure to air.

Labels became very important as we discover in King Tutankhamum’s tomb. I looked for one the jars at the exhibition now at the Science Museum in Los Angeles with no luck! A missed opportunity for this wine lover! Those jars are labeled with the vintage, the quality, the estate, the location and the winemakers name. This is the earliest label I know of! These jars have never been opened but I hope to taste Egyptian wine over 3,000 years old before I “ drop off the perch”! What are your thoughts?

By Libbie Agran


The History of Wine in 100 Bottles: From Bacchus to Bordeaux and Beyond by Oz Clark.

Visit Oz Clark’s website.