WINE | THE HISTORY PART IV

Culture, Mediterranean diet

PHOENICIANS

THE MOST IMPORTANT WINE MERCHANTS OF ANTIQUITY

There is probably no doubt that the Phoenicians were the first great and extremely successful wine merchants in the world. These trade-oriented people descended from the Canaanites, and from whom the Israelites later emerged. During the time of the Greek “colonization” of the northern Mediterranean and the Black Sea, the Phoenicians settled in the southern Mediterranean and developed an extensive trade network.

At around 3,000 BC their lands were in the area of today’s Lebanon, Syria and Israel, and they were not only outstanding traders and seafarers, but also the developers of the alphabet and inventors of the art of glassblowing. The first vines for wine production were brought into the country by Phoenician traders from the southern Caucasus and Anatolia.

It was probably the Vitis vinifera pontica, a presumed predecessor of the Chardonnay vine. It took a certain amount of knowledge and skill to turn these grapes into a tasteful wine. This knowledge was passed along the trade routes from the Caucasus and Zagros Mountains down through Mesopotamia and to the Mediterranean, eventually reaching Phoenicia.

When the Mediterranean wine trade finally exploded, the Phoenicians and their extensive maritime trade network were the main beneficiaries of the increased demand. They founded cities and gradually built the most important trading centers of the time, including the port cities of Tire, Sidon, Beirut, Byblos and Batroun, from where they headed for the coasts of the entire Mediterranean with their ships. Maritime trade flourished and, along with cedar wood, ores, glass and colored fabrics, wine was one of their most important commercial goods.

They reached the height of their power between 1,000 and 600 BC. At the time they not only traded their own produced wine, but also established vineyards and cellars along their routes and developed new markets in the colonies in southern Spain, northwest Africa, Sardinia, Corsica, Sicily and Malta.

They founded Carthage in what is now Tunisia and gave the Etruscans oenological tutoring, which in turn later served as a basis for the Gauls (French). One of the founding cities in Spain that goes back to the Phoenicians around 1,000 BC are Cádiz and Jerez. The cradle of viticulture in Spain is likely to be in the region that is now known as the sherry region. Thanks to the Phoenicians, Málaga, Murcia and Valencia started producing wine almost at the same time.

The earliest surviving instructions for vinification are said to be from Mago, a Phoenician scribe and agricultural expert who lived in the 2nd century BC. The Phoenicians viewed agriculture as a natural science and were valued as highly experienced farmers even in their day. They did not invent wine, but thanks to them, viticulture spread throughout the ancient Mediterranean. Archaeologists have discovered one of the oldest known wine presses in Lebanon – and with it new evidence of the extensive overseas trade of the ancient Phoenicians in wine.

Read more in Part I
Read more in Part II
Read more in Part III

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