Oldest wine

A bottle of wine on display in a German museum is more than 1600 years old. There are none older – but it probably tastes terrible.

Carole Raddato from FRANKFURT, Germany [CC BY-SA]
Humans have been making wine for thousands of years (see, for example, the oldest winery) but it is rare to find actual unopened bottles of wine older than a few hundred years. Mainly because it wasn’t common to put wine in bottles until relatively recently. But also because wine is delicious.

Around 325 or 350 CE, in what is now Speyer, Germany, a Roman nobleman and his wife died. Glass bottles were filled with wine and herbs – it was a common Roman practice to mix the two – then topped off with olive oil and sealed with hot wax. Sixteen of these bottles were buried with the couple.

Fifteen hundred years later, in 1867, the bottles were found as part of an archaeological dig. Only one of those sixteen bottles retained liquid, and we’re pretty sure that liquid is wine. The world’s oldest wine! (I hear the 300s were an excellent vintage.)

The bottle has never been opened. Chemically, it’s likely that it’s no longer alcoholic, but opening the bottle would expose the wine to air and that may cause rapid oxidation. It is probably still drinkable, at least in a technical sense, but as one scientist says diplomatically “it would not bring joy to the palate.”

And it’s not like people haven’t tasted old wines before. There is a barrel of white wine from Alsace in the teaching hospital of Strasbourg that dates back to 1472 – and is still drinkable, apparently.

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