In BriefIn the mid-1800s, a bottle of wine estimated to be 1,680 years old was discovered in the sarcophagus of a Roman nobleman and noblewoman. Researchers have debated opening the bottle for analysis, but experts worry it would not survive testing.
Really, Really Vintage
This beauty is believed to be the oldest bottle of wine in the world. It was unearthed in 1867, when individuals were excavating the grave of a Roman nobleman and noblewoman who were buried near what is now the German city of Speyer. Amazingly, the drink dates back to approximately 325 CE, making the bottle some 1,680 years old. That’s a staggering 613,000 days.
The bottle was one of 16 found in the sarcophagus, but it was the only one that was still intact. The 1.5-litre (51 US fl oz) vessel was meant to accompany the couple on their journey into the afterlife, and researchers believe it was produced in the area surrounding what is now modern Germany some time during the fourth century BCE (it has been dated to between 325 and 359 CE).
Individuals often say that fine wines age well, but either this wine is not “fine” or the saying does not apply to bottles that are nearly two millennia old. Scientific analyses have revealed that part of the liquid that is contained in the bottle was once wine, but emphasis should be placed on the once.
In ancient times, individuals often poured olive oil into bottles of wine in an attempt to seal the drink from outside air and, thus, preserve the wine. This may have worked for some years, but the method cannot hold up against centuries of aging. Consequently, in its present state, the bottle houses the residue of a clear liquid that is (sadly) no longer alcohol. It has lost all of its ethanol content. Above this liquid, filling nearly two thirds of the bottle, is a firm, rosin-like mixture.
Ultimately, researchers claim that the olive oil is what allowed the wine to survive to the present day. Because the oil was so thick in this bottle, it managed to save the tiny amount of liquid that we see left today. Moreover, the 1,650-year-old bottle was able to make it this far partially because it was sealed with wax as opposed to a modern cork, which would have rotted long ago. The fact that the glass did not break is a bit surprising, however, as Roman glass is not known for its tenacity.
A Wine With Legs
Unsurprisingly, the Speyer wine has had quite a history. After its burial with the Roman nobleman and its subsequent discovery in the mid-1800s, the bottle traveled about and was even analyzed by the Kaiser’s chemists during World War I.
This ancient vintage has been on display at the Pfalz Historical Museum for more than a century, and for quite some time, scientists have been debating whether they should crack open the bottle. However, the museum’s wine department curator, Ludger Tekampe, stated that the contents would likely not survive the ordeal as a result of the extreme age.
In his statement, he asserted, “We are not sure whether or not it could stand the shock to the air. It is still liquid, and there are some who believe it should be subjected to new scientific analysis, but we are not sure. I have personally held the bottle twice in my hand during renovations. That was an amazing feeling.”
At present time, the bottle remains unopened and on display. Considering that it has been around for so long, there is no rush to reach a decision, as it is unlikely to undergo a dramatic shift in a short time. Indeed, Tekampe states that the bottle’s contents have not altered for the last 25 years, and wine professor Monika Christmann has said, “Micro-biologically it is probably not spoiled, but [as you can tell based on its appearance] it would not bring joy to the palate.”