HEFER VALLEY, Israel — The new crisp, acidic and mineral white from a high-end Israeli winery was aged for eight months — or, depending on how you look at it, at least 1,800 years.
The wine, called marawi and released last month by Recanati Winery, is the first commercially produced by Israel’s growing modern industry from indigenous grapes. It grew out of a groundbreaking project at Ariel University in the occupied West Bank that aims to identify, through DNA testing — and recreate — ancient wines drunk by the likes of King David and Jesus Christ.
Eliyashiv Drori, the Ariel oenologist who heads the research, traces marawi—also called hamdani—and jandali grapes to A.D. 220 based on a reference in the Babylonian Talmud.
“All our scriptures are full with wine and with grapes — before the French were even thinking about making wine, we were exporting wine,” he said. “We have a very ancient identity, and for me, reconstructing this identity is very important. For me, it’s a matter of national pride.”
The redevelopment of local varietals, however — like so many things in this contested land — is not free of political friction. It comes alongside contentious new labeling guidelines by the European Union requiring that wines from the West Bank and Golan Heights carry a label saying they were made in settlements. And, perhaps predictably, Palestinians have their own ownership claims on these grapes.
For Israeli winemakers, the search for old-new varietals is an opportunity to distinguish their wares in a competitive global marketplace where they harbor little hope of improving on, say, chardonnay from France. Archaeologists and geneticists are testing new methods for analyzing charred ancient seeds. In the endless struggle between Israelis and Palestinians, it is a quest to underscore Jewish roots in the holy land.
But Recanati is not the first to sell wine from these grapes. Cremisan, a small winery near Bethlehem where Palestinians partner with Italian monks, has been using hamdani, jandali and other local fruit since 2008.