THE PURPOSE OF WINE   V 1.03

Ancient Egyptian Wine Classifications: Beyond date, maker, quality & origin - classifying wine by its function – e.g. celebrating first class functions, tax collection day, wine for dancing. wine for offerings, wine for a happy return and of course wine for merrymaking!  

There is much discussion these days regarding wine labeling.  In general we are in the camp that "more is better".  Truth in labeling is historically important.
But something too often overlooked is THE PURPOSE OF WINE.  Should not the purpose of wine also be written on its label?

While reading THE PHILOSOPHY OF WINE by Roger Scruton: 

The Ancient Egyptians, incidentally, while they often labeled wines with the place of their production and would trade with all the best supplier around the Mediterranean, would classify wines by their social function. Archaeologists have recovered amphorae labeled as “wine for first-class celebrations”, “wine for tax collection day”, “wine for dancing”, and so on.

I had an AHA moment: Wine writers usually discuss WHY buy a particular wine. The far more essential issue or question I suddenly realized is WHY was this wine born or made?
It  struck me that I would like to encourage the adaption of a modern version of ancient Egyptian wine labeling.

Naturally, the listing of vintage year, name of the estate, along with estate owner and chief vintner was reserved for premium wines.
Others labeled of good quality or simply identified by the house that produced them the equivalent of the today's French Vin de Pays or French country wine.

But what is of greater significance is the addition of the specific purpose or occasion for which the wine was prepared:

Is it to celebrate a first class function?  
Clearly a vintage champagne or Bordeaux & Burgundy investment wines are appropriate for first class occasions.

Is it a wine for merrymaking?
The first wine that comes to mind for "merriment" is Australian Shiraz.
Additionally, we might think of higher alcoholic or heavily fortified wines. (While hardly classical Egyptian, I am reminded  of the teenage desire to "get drunk.")

Broadly speaking, I view wine as serving one of two functions: Wine with Food or Wine without Food. With the former, there are many classic rules as well as modern matching principles, the latter especially applicable for New World wines or those without traditions. Some authors have written about what wine is best for celebrations such as Thanksgiving or Valentine's Day.  Many have written about seasonality or selecting food and wine by the seasons.  But I would argue, if the Wine is the star attraction, THINK EGYPTIAN!

The following list is derived from the 1400 Labels of Amenhotep III El Malkata Western Thebes.  
Note: I would welcome any readers who are proficient egyptologists to make additions to the following list to make it more comprehensive.

We have already mentioned the obvious modern wine choices for first class occasions to be the likes of a first growth Bordeaux, Grand Cru Burgundy or vintage Champagne.
But which wines are best for Dancing?
If we wish to serve a  "wine for dancing",  would we not also need to know the music selection?
In Ancient Egypt dancing often accompanied celebrations, feasts, religious services and funeral rites. [While there were also specialized dances for other purposes e.g. military, drama etc, I presume wine was most likely served before or after but not to accompany such events.]   We understand many dances were almost entirely religious in nature, and meant to honor, celebrate, mourn, or pacify various Gods.  Again I presume the choice of wine was made according to the purpose of each function* 

So thinking in modern terms, would it be correct to select an Argentina Malbec as appropriate for tangos, while an Austrian Gruener Veltliner is better for Waltzes?
But clearly there is more. If we think about jazz and wine, we have many different styles of jazz, each having its "match made in heaven" matching wine.

We have more research to do. I will post the results in a future blog. **
Readers are happily encouraged to do similarly and hopefully share the fruits of their drinking labors and comments below:

What Egyptian wine would I most desire to taste? Personally, I would love to have a cellar full of sweet wines from the House of Aton of the Western River. Its Chief Vintner Aperershop labeled the purpose of this wine to be "Life, Prosperity & Health".

* Wine was the main offering made by pharaoh to the gods in funerary and ritual scenes.  While there were several Egyptian gods and goddesses associated with wine, it was Osiris who was equated by the historian Herodotus with the Greek god Dionysus.  Soon after picking the grapes, vine leaves would fall down and the vine itself would seem dead. Some months later the vine would sprout again.  This cycle was seen by the Egyptians to correspond to the death and resurrection of their god Osiris.
We were wondering about which wines match classic rock`n`roll music.  One answer may be the wines that rock each inspired by some of the world's great bands e.g. Rolling Stones "Forty Licks" Merlot, Woodstock Chardonnay, Pink Floyd "Dark Side of the Moon" Cabernet Sauvignon. etc.   Here clearly the wine making has been explicit in labeling the purpose WHY these wines were made.
Another example is one answer to the classic food and wine pairing conundrum: "What wine to drink with curry?" was the inspiration in 2007 for Balti Wine to develop and market five Argentinian blended wines (each with a distinct bottle top colour to denote  its "chili rating") to match all spicy foods.


1. "The early Egyptians confined much of their well tendered vineyards to walled-in gardens (wine gardens!)
2. It is also interesting to note that Wine in Egyptian is irp, which is thought to be onomatopaeic for a 'burp' or hiccup from drinking either too much wine or too quickly. :)

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King Tut's Wine Cellar Leonard Lasko
Wine in Ancient Egypt  Maria Rosa Guasch Jane
Inscriptions from the Palace of Amehotep III  William Hayes

A YEAR OF WINE Perfect Pairings, Great Buys, and what to Sip for Each Season Tyler Colman, aka Dr. Vino


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(c) 2010 Henry Weingarten