Origins of Viniculture: Levantine influence spreads south and west

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Wine

Oxford Companion to Wine

By Jancis Robinson

Published 2006

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We do know that viniculture ultimately radiated out from the mountainous Near East to other areas on the western and eastern arms of the Fertile Crescent. It had reached canaan by c.3500 bc, to judge from grape seeds, wood, and even whole dried grapes (raisins) recovered from sites in the Jordan Valley. In mesopotamia transplantation of the vine and winemaking followed the spine of the Zagros Mountains and had arrived in Shiraz in south western Iran by at least 2500 bc.

The southern Levantine industry had matured to such a degree that by the time of Scorpion I (c.3150 bc), one of the first rulers of a united Egypt, his tomb at Abydos was stocked with 4,500 l of wine imported from southern Canaan. The wine was laced with terebinth tree resin, to which fresh fruit (grapes and figs) and various Levantine herbs such as thyme and savory had been added. The grapes might also have been added as raisins. It was essentially a medicinal powerhouse, and the well-documented Egyptian pharmacopeia of later times clearly drew inspiration, as well as the botanicals themselves, from the Canaanite world. Only the best beverage could serve to usher a pharaoh into the afterlife.