Would You Drink 1,650-Year-Old Wine?

You may have heard that a lot of the hullaballoo over wine tasting is a lot of hype. For example, just tell your guests that their vino is primo, and they'll enjoy it more. Here's another trick: just throw a year in front of it when you're describing it. (We particularly recommend the '16 Franzia.)

There's one bottle in the world that we'll probably never know if it lives up to its one-of-a-kind vintage. The Speyer bottle is at least 1,650 years old, and what's more, its contents are still sloshing around inside (you might not want to drink it, though).

Notes Of Olive Oil And Herbs

So where did this wine come from, and how has it survived for so long? The part of the story that we know for sure starts in Speyer, Germany, in the year 1867. While excavating a Roman tomb dating back to 325–350 C.E., archaeologists discovered two sarcophagi containing the remains of a man and a woman respectively, and an assortment of glass bottles that were likely meant to accompany the couple on their journey to the afterlife.

Though most of the bottles had been cracked or emptied, one remained unbroken and filled with liquid. And it proved that when it came to traveling to the halls of Elysium, the Romans weren't averse to taking some road brews. An analysis of the outside of the Speyer bottle showed that its contents were alcoholic, if not particularly appetizing. Because although there was a fair amount of liquid still contained inside, about two-thirds had congealed into a hard, resinous substance thanks to the Roman preservation method of sealing off the wine with a layer of olive oil. A blend of herbs likely finished off the process for additional flavor. All in all, it's probably not the most appealing beverage at this point — especially since it's no longer alcoholic.

Pfalz History Museum

When Aged Like Wine Goes Too Far

Yes, sadly, the Speyer bottle will no longer get you drunk, though perhaps the spirit of that, er, spirit provided some comfort to the tomb's occupants. If you can convince the caretakers of the Pfalz History Museum, which has been home to the bottle for more than a century, you technically could drink it, though. According to wine professor Monika Christmann, "Micro-biologically it is probably not spoiled, but [as you can tell based on its appearance] it would not bring joy to the palate."

You'd have a hard time getting inside the bottle, though. Although some scientists have petitioned to be able to open the bottle and analyze the contents chemically, Ludger Tekampe, the department head in charge of storing the bottle, is adamant. "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." But the bottle is a treasure in and of itself — we don't really feel the need to get inside it any more than we felt the need to get into the half-drunk Coors scattered around our college dorm on a Saturday morning.

What Ancient Wine Tasted Like

Key Facts In This Video

  1. Wine cultivation is about 6,000-9,000 years old. 00:16

  2. Ancient wine was often fortified with herbs and spices to add flavor and medicinal properties. 01:47

  3. Today, wine grapes are growing on every continent except Antarctica. 02:33

Written by Reuben Westmaas September 26, 2017

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