The oldest wine in the world, and the most expensive bottle
What’s the oldest bottle of wine ever found?
Last year we cleared out one of the old outbuildings in Stanlake Park and found a few bottles of wine from the 90’s labelled as Thames Valley Vineyard (the name of the vineyard before the change to Stanlake Park Wine Estate in 2005). This got me thinking about the oldest wine in the world.
The oldest bottle of wine ever discovered is the Speyer bottle (also known as the Romerwein aus speyer) and is dated to around 325 AD. The bottle was unearthed in 1867 and one of 16 found in a sarcophagus in the grave of a Roman nobleman – the bottle was the only one still intact as others had shattered or were empty. Prior to this period, the nobleman would have been cremated but here he would have been buried alongside everyday items such as wine. The grapes used are believed to be local and probably flavoured with herbs or preservatives. The contents is no longer truly wine but a dark mass with a milky liquid. The liquid, which has no longer alcohol, has most likely survived this long because the bottle was sealed with wax and hefty layer of olive oil was poured into the bottle to preserve the wine.
Since the discovery of the oldest wine in the world, experts have debated on whether or not the wine should be opened and analysed. For now, the bottle remains unopened as part of the Pfalz Historical Museum collection in the German City of Speyer.
Expensive old wines and unsold bottles
There are a number of other old bottles of expensive wines. A bottle of Chateau Lafite Rothschild 1787 that was auctioned at Christie’s of London in 1985, is officially the most expensive bottle of wine ever sold at £150,000. The reason for the wine’s high price tag is that despite having no label, the bottle was etched with the initials Th.J, suggesting that the wine had belonged to Thomas Jefferson. Christie’s glass experts confirmed that the bottle and the engraving dated back to the 18th century. Also, the wine’s authenticity can be backed up by history as Jefferson served as America’s Minister to France between 1785 – 1789. Jefferson was also known to be a wine connoisseur and reportedly brought back with him to America about $120,000 worth of wine in today’s currency from France.
The most expensive bottle of wine that was never sold was a bottle of Chateau Margaux 1787. In 1989, wine merchant William Sokolin valued the wine at £500,000 because it was also believed to have once belonged to Thomas Jefferson, but there were no interested buyers at that price. However, during a party honouring the owners of the wine that Sokolin was trying to sell, the bottle of Chateau Margaux 1787 fell to the ground and was completely broken. Fortunately, Sokolin had the wine insured for $225,000 which was paid out by the insurance company.
The oldest wine in the world is not bottled
Although the Speyer one is the oldest bottled wine, Scientists believe that 8,000-year-old pottery fragments have revealed the earliest evidence of grape winemaking. A number of earthenware jars containing residual wine compounds were found in two sites south of the Georgian capital, Tbilisi. Some of the jars bore images of grape clusters and a man dancing. Previously, the earliest evidence of grape winemaking had been found in the Zagros Mountains of Iran and dated to 5,400-5,000 BC.
The world’s earliest non-grape based wine is believe to be a fermented alcoholic beverage of rice, honey and fruit found in China and dating to about 7,000 BC.
So how long can wine be stored?
A question asked by many visitors to Stanlake Park is how long will wine last if unopened. Wine should be kept in cool, dark places with bottles placed on their sides to prevent the cork from drying out – obviously not for hundred years before being drunk! However, there’s no easy way to estimate the shelf life of an unopened bottle of wine, it very much depends on the type of wine.
Generally speaking, most of the still white and rosé wines should be drunk within a couple of years of the purchase date to taste the wine at its best. After that date, the wine won’t ‘go bad’ but it will start losing flavours and structure, and can become a bit flabby and boring. Red wines, however, tend to evolve in a bottle so we suggest to drink ours now or keep for a maximum of five years. Finally, sparkling wine is usually ready to drink at release, as these wines have been already aged in our cellars before hitting the shelves; so the best advice we can give is to drink your fizz, don’t wait!