Until recently, historians believed that the wines consumed in Ancient Egypt were exclusively red. Red was considered a powerful, princely colour, linked with the blood of Osiris, the God of resurrection, and a potent symbol of re-birth. However, in 2005 a team of scientists from the University of Barcelona examined residue found in three separate amphorae found in King Tutankhamun’s tomb and revealed that he was partial to a vessel of white wine too. This residue was the first scientific evidence to suggest that white wine was made and enjoyed as early as 1324 BC, when the most famous of Pharaohs died.
Of the six vessels that were buried in the tomb, liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry analysis revealed that all of them contained traces of tartaric acid, indicating the presence of white grape wine. Only a few contained syringic acid, a breakdown product from red grape pigment. Was King Tut more of a white wine kind of guy, we wonder? Was he more into the Egyptian equivalent of Puligny-Montrachet than Pomerol? Or did his aides simply furnish him with a bit of both, to be on the safe side?
In any case, King Tut’s tomb, besides being our greatest source of discovery of Ancient Egypt, tells us that white wine has been around for millennia. We like to imagine that just like red, white wine was an essential part of the good life, a symbol of celebration and a way to connect with the gods. King Tut’s tomb was certainly well equipped for whatever was waiting for him, containing everything from a dagger made from an iron meteorite to a chariot, a chair and scarab beetle made of lapis lazuli. But it’s the flagons of red and white that really pique our interest: a good old funerary knees-up to fortify Tut for the afterlife, and a clue to the secret of wine’s everlasting power and appeal.
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