Israeli wine production is plagued by one serious irony, Butler and Heskett note. To be sold in most grocery stores, wine must be kosher. Wine can only be certified kosher if all those who work to produce it are observant Jews. Observant Jews, however, must cease from work on the weekly Sabbath and a number of holidays. This means that vintners and their workers are unable to time their harvesting and other steps of winemaking with the precision that other makers of fine wines aim for. Not all Israeli wines are kosher, though, and some of the better wines need to be purchased directly from producers.
Beyond mere wine tourism, such as one might do on a visit to California or France, Butler and Heskett seek out wine producers who are trying to restore ancient winemaking techniques. One such vintner is the Shiluh-Süryani Sarabi vineyard in a Kurdish region of Turkey not far from the Syrian border. This area was settled by Syriac (Aramaic-speaking) Christians in the fourth century, and, while only 18,000 Syriac Christians live in Turkey today, about 3,000 are concentrated in this region. Today, this winery grows its grapes organically, crushes them in traditional stone gats, and ferments the wine for 45 to 60 days in large clay jars kept cool by being buried in the ground. Then, without any filtration or fining, the wine is bottled. This preserves the wine's purity for sacramental use in the Syriac church.
The authors call these Syriac wines "truly biblical" because they are produced using ancient methods that are part of a wine-making tradition reaching back to biblical times. That brings us back to the question, What wine would Jesus (criticized by his opponents as a "winebibber") drink?
Jesus seemed more than ready to break the ritual kosher rules, say Heskett and Butler, especially if fellowship would be impaired by ritual purity. That freed the authors to consider a wide variety of wines made according to ancient techniques. They finally settled on a traditionally made white wine from the former Soviet republic of Georgia, not exactly biblical, but definitely ancient. They describe the 2009 Pheasant's Tears Rrkatsiteli as "deep yellow-gold" and having "saline-mushroom, floral-herb, and olive scents." It has a "chewy finish that is more like a red wine's."
But what about a red wine? Jesus would be eating lamb, no? One of the authors' suggestions is a traditionally made red from Sicily: the 2010 COS Pithos.
But really, was Jesus a wine snob? Or did he drink wine as a form of fellowship with those excluded from Jewish society? If the latter, Heskett and Butler are right to say on the very last page that Jesus would, as a guest of honor, be humble enough to drink whatever he was served.
David Neff is the former editor in chief of Christianity Today.