Tasting Roman Wine from the Time of Jesus

“Many other Roman-era techniques would have separated Roman wine in the time of Jesus from what we drink today, including natural fermentation. Additionally, while Roman wine could come in a wide range of colors, the Roman world lacked the modern distinction between red and white wines” - Biblical Archaeology


Unfortunately, the writers weren’t interested in the question of levels of alcohol in Roman wine in the first century. But maybe those interested in researching that can chase down the source(s) and see if they go into that.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Here you go. 16% alcohol by volume, oftentimes mixes in a 2:1 ratio with water.


So after the mixing, about half to a third as strong as today. It was watered down to extend the act of inebreation and not to pass out drunk too quickly. Still done in parts of the world today, and definitely done as you drink stronger drinks.

The percentage of alcohol in Georgian wines--the model for analysis of the Roman wines--tends to be 14.5%-16%, which is pretty strong for even a modern wine. The key "tell" in the study, which is linked from Biblical Archeology via Cambridge's web site, is the "flor" or seal on wine that forms when the sugar content of the must is sufficient to generate wine of that strength.

Other hints we have: people were fully capable of getting very drunk and even suffering alcohol poisoning with those wines, and we have references to the "old" wines which indicates it was strong enough to keep.

All in all, a fascinating look at the culture of ancient winemaking.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

A few thoughts:

In ancient times they did not have a word for alcohol. They described alcohol by its effects (see Proverbs 23:29-35).

Their only sources of sugar / sweetness were from fruit and honey.

They had not learned to distill alcohol.

They certainly had alcoholic wine and knew how to make it. They also had nonalcoholic wine, and knew how to make and preserve it. They sometimes distinguished it by the sweet, and by wine that does not hurt the head, or give you a hangover.

They often boiled wine, which removed the alcohol, and /or thickened wine / grape juice which prevented it from fermenting. A type of this boiled / cooked wine is available today, often called pekmez and also by other names. You can buy it at Amazon. Aristotle spoke of wine so thick you had to scrape it from the wine skin.

Sometimes ancients would add salt in the process of making wine. This effected lactic fermentation, a nonalcohol or very low alcohol wine. An ancient writer said that almost all the wine of Italy contained salt or seawater. Lactic fermentation with salt or brine is an ancient method of preserving food that is becoming more popular today.

So they had both alcoholic and nonalcoholic wine, and they called both by the same name, wine. Their alcoholic wine certainly could make you drunk, but was not as high alcohol as what can be made today.

The above information, and ancient wine recipes, along with documentation, are given in my book, Ancient Wine and the Bible.

David R. Brumbelow

How many Christians, who insist on their Christian liberty to consume alcoholic beverages and use Jesus as their example, dilute their wine as per 1st century custom? Answer: They don't care.

Wally Morris
Huntington, IN

How many Christians, who insist on their Christian liberty to consume alcoholic beverages and use Jesus as their example, dilute their wine as per 1st century custom? Answer: They don't care.

I am around many of those Christians on a regular basis and have yet to see one of them be drunk.

They did have a word for alcohol. In Rome it was called Vinum, and you can see it written on frescoes as well as ancient writings. The ancient Egpytians used the term Shedeh for alcoholic wine, and it is in hieroglyphics and on pots.

I don't know too many people who dilute wine today. I also have never seen anyone get drunk off of wine, although I know it is entirely possible. In distilled liquor, diluting is very common today. Sometimes it is diluted directly and sometime it has a large piece of ice that takes up most of the space in the glass.

Doesn't take much undiluted alcohol to affect your senses, abilities, mental alertness, even if you are not drunk. If Jesus is the example (as many alcohol-consuming Christians insist), then dilute your alcohol. A Christian is very foolish for insisting on his right to consume a product with so many dangers, more influenced by current culture than Biblical principle.

Wally Morris
Huntington, IN

Do we know how much they drank at a sitting during the Roman era? How do we know that they didn't have 3-4 glasses of wine at a sitting, where today someone might have 1-2? Wouldn't that defeat the concept of "diluting the wine"?

It's perfectly fine to abstain or dilute if that is one's preference. But ultimately the Biblical teaching is not to dilute, but rather not to be a drunkard.

The reasons why Roman's diluted the wine was the extend the inebreation. They didn't want to get drunk too fast, they wanted to extend it. It was fashionable at the time.

I don't drink, and I doubt I will ever drink. I have been with people, extensively, who drink, both Christians and non-Christians. I have been with drunk and non-drunk. I have been with people who are black out drunk. US, Europe and Asia. I have never seen anyone get drunk over wine. Can you? Yes. But, I have never seen it, and that is thousands of people. Usually it is 1 glass of wine, or maybe 2 with dinner. People will limit themselves to 1 glass if they are going to drive and may drink 2 if someone else is driving.

OK, there is precisely one clear example of diluting wine in Scripture in Isaiah 1:22, and the implication there is that it is a BAD thing.

The reason for that is the nature of diluted wines--I'm guessing the mixed wine of Proverbs 23 may qualify, as well as that of Isaiah 5:22--is that they are not diluted because of a general objection to drinking wine, or a desire to stretch its antiseptic properties, but rather because it's inferior wine, and the drinkers want to get it down quickly and easily.

In other words, they are trying to get drunk, and sugar, spices, and the like make it go down quickly and easily. This is the same thing that often goes on with modern diluted wines like sangria, "White Claw", "Hard Lemonade", and other "alcopops".

So to insist one water down one's wine if one desires to drink it is, in Biblical and historical context, to suggest one get drunk. No, thank you.

It's also worth suggesting, in light of this, that Jesus may have "slowed the party down" in the second chapter of John by providing good wine that could be drunk straight. The master of the feast is not tasting that wine simply because he wants another drink, but rather because he knows that the wine that's brought out late in the wedding week is generally pretty bad, and he's going to need some serious mixing to make it palatable.

So contrary to "fundagelical mythology" about alcohol, diluting wine is not a Biblical imperative, and it's actually counter-productive if one wishes to avoid drunkenness. Part of the deal is that you can get alcopops for $1, and a glass of decent wine at a restaurant starts at about $10. Same basic deal with cheap beer vs. drinkable. You don't want to waste your money on something you're not even really going to taste.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

If you've got a serious problem with the after-effects of gluttony (drunkenness is nothing more than gluttony for alcohol, after all), take a good look at gourmet culture and wine culture. When you have an investment in your food--whether it be care to make it or price to buy it--you are not going to pound it down like you would if you were eating at "Old Country Buffet".

So if you're praying on Wednesday night for sufferers of heart disease, diabetes, joint and back issues, and the like, take a look.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

I've pointed this out previously. Wine today IS routinely diluted by those who consume it. It's easy to do so in a way that seems to be completely (perhaps even willfully) overlooked by some on SI.

Picture Joe Christian walking into a restaurant. He orders a meal, and a glass of wine to accompany it. On the table is a glass of water. Assume he drinks the glass of water (16 oz.) along with the wine (5 - 6 oz.) during the meal. This equates to roughly a 3:1 dilution ratio.

Whether diluted pre-consumption or during the course of consumption, isn't the net effect the same?

That’s fair. With a meal, it’s also “diluted” with a lot of food.

Though I still think total abstinence makes more sense, the view that draws the line at “wine with meal” seems to me like a close second. It provides a pretty tangible boundary between drinking vs. “getting buzzed” vs. “getting intoxicated” etc.

I was at a work event once where the food to alcohol ratio was quite flipped compared to having some wine with a meal. That was intentional. It was a networking and conversation event. But when you have hors d’oeuvres and booze, it’s different from “wine with meal.”

I had unaltered Coke ….and somehow conversation was still great.😀 (I noticed one of the others I chatted with had his own water in a water bottle. I thought that was interesting. I hadn’t thought of that. It didn’t seem weird either, in that setting.)

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

...just follow what the Bible tells us; avoid drinking (and, ahem, eating) too much? There is a certain danger that exists when we try to, like the Pharisees, "fence off" possible sin by putting rules in place that go beyond what the Bible actually says. If we say "don't have any alcohol without food", what we're going to tend to do is to assume that the guy who enjoys a beer after mowing the lawn is in sin, or decide that the family celebrating an engagement with a glass of prosecco or champagne is in sin.

As a general practice, I have no objections to having food with wine, but I do object to making it a hard and fast rule. It will needlessly cause fights because it's simply not what Scripture commands.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.