Thursday, January 14, 2010

What Wine Was Served at the Last Supper?

The Last Supper is supposed to be the final meal that Jesus shared with his twelve apostles and disciples. I am not going to enter into a debate over whether this dinner actually occurred or not. I merely want to speculate on the type of wine that might have been served at this meal. So, for the purpose of this post, I will treat this supper as if it truly took place.

Though wine was served at the Last Supper, there are no specific details of the type or nature of the wine. Thus, we are left speculating as to what they might have drank. We should note that some believe the dinner may have been a Passover Seder, or at least reminiscent of such a celebration. By examining the potential evidence, including from ancient history, archaeology, cultural traditions, and more, one type of wine stands out as a possible choice.


Passum is a type of sweet, raisin wine that appears to have originated in ancient Carthage and eventually spread to Italy. It became very popular with the Romans, and spread to other parts of their Empire. There were multiple ways to produce passum. Sometimes grapes, after they were ripe, were left on the vine for more time until the sun had shriveled them to about half their size. Other times, the grapes were picked when ripe and then placed on to a tray to dry in the sun. In addition, some wine makers just immersed the grapes in boiling olive oil.

In ancient Palestine, archaeologists have found numerous amphorae which were specifically designed to transport passum. In addition, Jews traditionally used Passum during Passover celebrations. Even to this day, raisin wine is generally acceptable during Passover. The Talmud refers to zimmukin (“raisin wine”) as well as ilyaston (sweet wine from grapes dried in the sun for three days). Passum has a long shelf life so it is easier to store between celebrations. Thus, there are some food reason to believe that passum may have been served at the celebration of the Last Supper.

The modern day version of passum is the Italian passito, where the grapes are picked and then let to dry in the sun atop a mat. Check out my reviews of a couple passitos: NV Cascina Chicco Arcass and 1999 Riecine Sangiovese Passito.

Inspiration and information for this article partially derives from the article "My Blood of the Covenant: What Did the Apostles Drink at the Last Supper?" by Nicholas K. Rauh and Elizabeth Lyding Will (Archaeology Odyssey, Sept/Oct 2002). Thanks very much to the authors and check out their article for more information.


drinknectar said...

Very cool! I've often wondered this as I celebrate communion. Thanks for the enlightenment on the WWJD question, Richard.


Chris @ Wine a Day said...

So there was no water/wine alchemy going on? Good to know:-) It is intereting how the pallet has changed from roman times. The upper-crust Romans used water down their wine as well. Imaging someone came over to you place and after serving them a glass of wine they went to the tap and topped it up with water? There would be a riot! Even if it was a toga party...

Wine of the month club said...

Your blog got me to thinking, what would I like to drink at my last supper?

Frankly it would be hard to narrow it down to just one wine, but I am sure a fine aged cab from Napa would be on the list. Just can't escape the thrill of tasting a well cellared wine which has shed some of the tough tannins, yet still has lovely fruit flavors.

Michael Gorton, Jr. said...

Great subject and very intresting.

Thanks for making me think.

I think your choice is more correct then my primitivo.