The country of Egypt has a long and complicated history with wine that dates back thousands of years.
There is plenty of evidence that wine was a very important part of life in ancient Egypt for thousands of years before alcohol production all but ceased in the seventh century.
Today, winemakers strive to produce high-quality wine in this historic region and work to rehabilitate the image of the wines of Egypt.
Exploring the Wines of Egypt
Egyptian Wine History
Wine was a very important part of ancient Egyptian culture, and there is evidence of winemaking in the region that dates back as far as 3000 BC.
The Nile Delta provided fertile soils that were well suited for grape vines, and it is thought that wine was a part of everyday life.
There are numerous ancient drawings that have been recovered on the walls of Egyptian buildings that depict everything from the production to the consumption of wine. Lists of different wines being served, as well as prices, have also been recovered.
By 2200 BC, winemaking on the Nile Delta had become such an important part of daily life that it became a part of burial customs for the deceased. For centuries, five different types of wine were sent with the dead into tombs, as they were thought to be essential afterlife provisions.
There is evidence of pharaohs drinking wine all the way back to 600 BC, and evidence suggests that most, if not all wines produced in Egypt were red. While there is also evidence of white wine residue being found in the region, it is thought that it was produced by trade.
By the time Rome had taken control of Egypt, wine was still a prevalent part of Egyptian culture, and this continued all the way until the seventh century.
After the Muslim conquest of Egypt, wine production and consumption all but ended in the country for over 1300 years.
Egyptian Wine Today
For many years, concentrated wine was imported to the region to be served to tourists, and Egypt’s wine developed a negative reputation.
Today, there are a handful of small wine producers that are working hard to restore quality winemaking to the region.
Kouroum of the Nile
Located in El Gouna, Kouroum of the Nile winery grows its wine grapes in the same Nile Delta area where ancient wine grapes were grown over a thousand years ago. Winemaker Labib Kallas works hard to showcase the natural terroir of the region while producing high-quality wines.
The winemaker estimates that by 2008 or 2009, the winery had figured out how to successfully produce high enough quality wine that it was up to “international standards.” He also estimates that 95 percent of all wine sold by Kouroum of the Nile is consumed by tourists.
With only an estimated 5 percent of all wines being consumed by locals, it is unlikely that this Egyptian winemaker will have a dramatic impact on the country of Egypt itself. Alcohol is rarely consumed across the country, and Kouroum of the Nile instead chooses to focus on tourism.
The El Gouna area is one of Egypt’s tourism hot spots, with thousands of visitors from across the world passing through every year.
The reception of locally produced wines has been fantastic by tourists year over year, as Kouroum of the Nile continues to fine-tune its processes.
There are very few alcohol licenses awarded across the entire country, and Kouroum of the Nile’s placement in a region known for tourism is one of the reasons that they are allowed to make wine at all.
With the country’s strict laws and high taxes on alcohol importation, small wineries in Egypt have very little competition. This allows them to price their wines high enough to focus on quality rather than economics and profits.
Very little wine is exported from the country of Egypt, so it is unlikely that a bottle of Kouroum of the Nile can be found outside the country. The producer’s primary focus is on producing high-quality wine for tourists, and restoring the reputation of quality wine in the country.
One of the winery’s top-selling and most widely acclaimed wines is made from 100 percent Beausoleil grapes, an ancient wine grape native to Egypt. The local name for this wine is Bannati, and it is one of the few Egyptian wines available for sale online.
Located in the Nile Delta near the village of Abu al-Matamir, Domaine de Gianaclis is another Egyptian winemaker that is working diligently to bring back quality wines to the country. The company was acquired from the Egyptian government in 2002 by the Heineken Group.
The winery has been operational for nearly 130 consecutive years, though there was a major dropoff in both production and wine quality while the company was state-run from the 1960s until 2002.
Today, the Heineken Group is working to restore the prestige of this historic and groundbreaking winery. They have brought in experienced French winemakers to oversee operations, and have made numerous major changes including a complex irrigation system.
This is one of the few wineries in the entire country of Egypt that is available to tour and taste wine on site. Guided tours of the winery and tasting rooms are held by friendly and knowledgeable staff, and they offer a top-tier tasting experience.
A luxury bus is used to shuttle tourists in and back from the major city of Cairo, and a light lunch is also included with the tour. Gianaclis is also one of the few wineries that export wine, and currently, there are seven countries outside of Egypt carrying their wines.
The Heineken Group has also worked hard to make these wines more readily available to the local public. They have partnered with the domestic wine sales website Drinkies Egypt, where customers are able to shop their many wines from the comfort of their own homes.
Egyptian Wine Challenges
One of the largest obstacles for Egyptian winemakers is the lack of demand for alcohol within the country. The majority of the country completely abstains from consuming alcohol for religious reasons, making a winemaking enterprise financially difficult.
The majority of wine produced in the country is done so with the intent to serve tourists. Some of the largest producers of wine in the country produce both bottles for home and restaurant consumption, and in bags to be shipped and served to tourists at hotels.
With the recent increase in the quality of Egyptian wines, there is a slight demand internationally, and a moderate amount of wine is exported out of the country every year. A large tax is imposed on imported wine, giving local winemakers an advantage domestically.
There are very few alcohol production licenses granted in the country of Egypt, and most current producers of alcohol do so under special circumstances. Kouroum of the Nile winery is allowed to produce wine due to its location in a popular tourist destination.
Kouroum of the Nile sells the vast majority of its wine to tourists passing through the area, and a local billionaire is also involved in the project. Both of these factors helped them procure one of the few alcohol licenses in Egypt.
The largest alcohol producer in the country is the Heineken Group, which is allowed to produce both beer and wine in the country.
The company acquired many state-run alcohol operations, ensuring that they would be able to do business in the country for years to come.
While demand is an issue that winemakers face after producing wine, the harsh Egyptian climate is one that must be tackled before the first grape is planted. The temperatures in this desert country are extremely high year-round.
While the climate conditions would not normally allow for wine grape production under normal circumstances, winemakers have become creative and implemented tools like latticed shade systems to combat the harsh sun.
There is also virtually no rainfall during the growing season, and complex and expensive irrigation systems must be installed to ensure that the grapes will be hydrated enough to survive the season at all.
While other regions of the world have the luxury of being able to focus solely on the quality of their grapes, winemakers in Egypt have to work extremely hard just to keep their wine grapes alive in the first place.
Wines of Egypt – Conclusion
While the history of wine in the country of Egypt is rich and important, there were many centuries when production of Egyptian wine all but ceased completely.
Tourists were often served low-quality wines made from fermented grape concentrate shipped in from other countries.
Today, there are a small few Egyptian winemakers that are battling both the elements and lack of local demand to produce high-quality wine in the country of Egypt.