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Get Ready for a Taste of the Byzantine Empire’s Favorite Wine

Scientists hope the discovery of 1,500-year-old grape seeds may help resurrect the historically famous “Wine of the Negev”

( PhotoStock-Israel/Cultura/Corbis)
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The “Wine of the Negev" was reportedly one of the Byzantine Empire’s most treasured and expensive brews. Historical documents suggest that it was revered throughout much of the ancient world, from Egypt and Spain to Greece and Italy. Yet the exact composition of the wine has been lost to history.

That is, perhaps, until now, following the recent discovery of more than one hundred charred seeds believed to belong to the variety of grapes responsible for the prized wine. Archeologists came upon them while excavating an old trash heap at the site of Halutza, a long-gone city that once thrived in the Negev region of Israel. According to the Jewish Press, previous excavations in the area have uncovered wine jugs, the terraces used to grow the grape vines and remains of the actual wineries themselves. But never before, report the scientists, have grape seeds ever been unearthed.

“Our next job is to recreate the ancient wine, and perhaps in that way we will be able to reproduce its taste and understand what made the Negev wine so fine,” director of the excavation Guy Bar-Oz of the University of Haifa, told the Israeli Antiquities Authority. 

Fifteen hundred years after the newly discovered grape seeds first went into the garbage, the Negev region is again known for its vineyards, thanks to modern irrigation systems that bring water to the arid area. Today’s Negev wine comes from grapes whose vines were imported from Europe—and researchers wonder if the ancient variety may have had a similar origin. In other words, there’s a chance the Negev wine grapes are still in use today, but have yet to be linked to the Byzantine libation.

But experts are still leaving room for the chance that the grape seeds belong to a now-extinct vine native to the region that is now Israel.

If you can’t wait for science to resurrect wine prized centuries ago, consider trying to satiate yourself with the knowledge that scientists and breweries regularly attempt to recreate some of the world’s ancient alcoholic beverages—and some of their attempts are on sale. In the mid-2000’s, Dogfish Head Brewery collaborated with the scientists to recreate one of the oldest beers ever found—a 9,000-year-old Chinese concoction made of rice, honey, and grapes. Called Chateau Jiahu, the creation took home the gold in 2009’s Great American Beer Festival, according to NBC News.

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