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Wine played an important role in ancient Egyptian ceremonial life. A thriving royal winemaking industry was established in the Nile Delta following the introduction of grape cultivation from the Levant to Egypt c. 3000 BC. The industry was most likely the result of trade between Egypt and Canaan during the early Bronze Age, commencing from at least the 27th-century BC Third Dynasty, the beginning of the Old Kingdom period. Winemaking scenes on tomb walls, and the offering lists that accompanied them, included wine that was definitely produced in the delta vinyards. By the end of the Old Kingdom, five distinct wines, probably all produced in the Delta, constituted a canonical set of provisions for the afterlife. Wine in ancient Egypt was predominantly red. Due to its resemblance to blood, much superstition surrounded wine-drinking in Egyptian culture. Shedeh, the most precious drink in ancient Egypt, is now known to have been a red wine and not fermented from pomegranates as previously thought.
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Plutarch’s Moralia relates that, prior to Psammetichus I, the pharaohs did not drink wine nor offer it to the gods “thinking it to be the blood of those who had once battled against the gods and from whom, when they had fallen and had become commingled with the earth, they believed vines to have sprung”. This was considered to be the reason why drunkenness “drives men out of their senses and crazes them, inasmuch as they are then filled with the blood of their forbears”.
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Residue from five clay amphoras in Tutankhamun’s tomb, however, have been shown to be that of white wine, so it was at least available to the Egyptians through trade if not produced domestically.
Much of modern wine culture derives from the practices of the ancient Greeks. The vine preceded both the Minoan and Mycenaean cultures. Many of the grapes grown in modern Greece are grown there exclusively and are similar or identical to the varieties grown in ancient times. Indeed, the most popular modern Greek wine, a strongly aromatic white called retsina, is thought to be a carryover from the ancient practice of lining the wine jugs with tree resin, imparting a distinct flavor to the drink. The “Feast of the Wine” (Me-tu-wo Ne-wo) was a festival in Mycenaean Greece celebrating the “Month of the New Wine”. Several ancient sources, such as the Roman Pliny the Elder, describe the ancient Greek method of using partly dehydrated gypsum before fermentation and some type of lime after, in order to reduce the acidity of the wine. The Greek Theophrastus provides the oldest known description of this aspect of Greek winemaking.
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In Homeric mythology, wine is usually served in “mixing bowls” rather than consumed in an undiluted state. Dionysus, the Greek god of revelry and wine—frequently referred to in the works of Homer and Aesop—was sometimes given the epithet Acratophorus, “giver of unmixed wine”. Homer frequently refers to the “wine-dark sea” (οἶνωψ πόντος, oīnōps póntos): under the intensely blue Greek sky, the Aegean Sea as seen from aboard a boat can appear deep purple. The earliest reference to a named wine is from the 7th-century BC lyrical poet Alcman, who praises Dénthis, a wine from the western foothills of Mount Taygetus in Messenia, as anthosmías (“flowery-scented”).
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Chian was credited as the first red wine, although it was known to the Greeks as “black wine”. Coan was mixed with sea water and famously salty; Pramnian or Lesbian wine was a famous export as well. Aristotle mentions Lemnian wine, which was probably the same as the modern-day Lemnió varietal, a red wine with a bouquet of oregano and thyme. If so, this makes Lemnió the oldest known varietal still in cultivation.
For Greece, alcohol such as wine had not fully developed into the rich ‘cash crop’ that it would eventually become toward the peak of its reign. However, as the emphasis of viticulture increased with economic demand so did the consumption of alcohol during the years to come. The Greeks embraced the production aspect as a way to expand and create economic growth throughout the region. Greek wine was widely known and exported throughout the Mediterranean, as amphoras with Greek styling and art have been found throughout the area. The Greeks may have even been involved in the first appearance of wine in ancient Egypt. They introduced the V. vinifera vine to and made wine in their numerous colonies in modern-day Italy, Sicily, southern France, and Spain.