Ask any wine connoisseur about ageing and they’ll tell you about how important it is to allow a good Italian wine to mature to its fullest. Opening the bottle too early doesn’t ruin the wine, by any means. However, the ageing process often lends wines an array of extra textures, especially in the case of red wines.
Of course, ageing a wine for too long has the opposite effect. The wine over-matures and loses what made it so special in the first place. Even so, there are many collectors and museums who take pride in the fact that they have very old bottles of wines, many of which will never be opened as the age becomes more of a point of pride than the quality of the wine itself.
So that leads us to a question – what is the most aged wine in the world? To find the answer, we have to head to Germany.
The Speyer Wine Bottle
Though it’s now housed in the Pfalz Historical Museum in Germany, the Speyer Wine Bottle is actually believed to be Roman in origin. More importantly, this ancient bottle dates back almost 1,700 years, leading many to believe that it is the single oldest bottle of wine in the world.
It was discovered during the excavation of a 4th century Roman tomb back in 1867, which archaeologists believed held the remains of a Roman nobleman. Upon opening the tomb, they found two sarcophagi, one each for a man and a woman. They also discovered 16 bottles, of which only one still contained any liquid. The clear liquid at the bottom contrasts a deeper coloured liquid above, which also seems to hold yeast or something similar.
The bottle was extracted from the tomb, where experts concluded that it was most likely an ancient bottle of wine. The prevailing theory is that the man discovered in the tomb was actually a Roman Centurion, and that the many bottles discovered were intended to aid he and his wife on their celestial journey after death. The fact that one of these bottles survived the ravages of time is truly a remarkable thing.
Where Is It Now?
Since its discovery, the Speyer Wine Bottle has been housed in the Pfalz Historical Museum, holding the same spot for 150 years. It’s also available for the public to see, at the cost of entry into the museum.
The bottle itself holds 1.5 litres, and has the amphora shape and curved handles that are associated with wines from the period. However, it’s not the most appetizing-looking wine in the world. In fact, even a cursory examination will tell you that this wine has aged beyond repair and would taste horrendous. However, one analyst believes that, on a micro-biological level, the wine isn’t completely spoiled to the point where it could not be consumed.
Analysis of the Wine
Though the bottle has never been opened, many have examined the wine over the years in an effort to discover if it still resembles wine, and how the liquid was able to withstand the ravages of time where the other 15 evaporated into the ether.
These analyses appear to reveal that the wine has lost all of its ethanol content, which means it no longer contains any traces of alcohol. However, that same analysis suggests that at least some part of the liquid was a type of wine, many years ago. Furthermore, said wine is believed to have come from the same region as the bottle was discovered, with most believing that the liquid was infused and diluted with a variety of herbs.
As for preservation, most experts believe that the wine contains a high concentration of olive oil. This not only served to keep the liquid somewhat intact, but also likely acted as a seal to protect the liquid. This oil seal means that the wine could not evaporate, leading to it staying in the bottle and ageing for over a millennium. A hot wax seal at the lip only appears to have added to this effect.
Even so, analysts can’t come up with a reason for why the other 15 bottles weren’t preserved in the same way. Perhaps it is just some quirk of fate that cannot be explained.
Will the Bottle Ever Be Opened?
Debates have raged for several years about whether or not the bottle should be opened so that the liquid inside can undergo closer examination. On one hand, the liquid must be unique, as nothing similar has ever been found. However, this also means that many experts fear what might happen if the bottle were opened and the contents exposed to the air. While it’s unlikely to be combustible, over 1600 years of ageing has created a liquid unlike anything we’ve seen before.
According to Ludger Tekampe, who serves as the wine curator of the Pfalz Historical Museum, the wine “…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.”
As a result, we can’t really answer the question. Many have called for the opening of the bottle, mostly to sate their scientific appetites about its contents. Who knows what the scientific community might learn from examining such an old liquid. There’s also the slightly perverse desire to taste the contents, even after so many years, though we doubt that anybody would have the stomach to take the risk.
However, if we had to guess, we’d say that it’s likely the bottle will remain unopened for as long as possible. After all, as soon as it’s opened, the Speyer Wine Bottle will lose everything that makes it so special in the first place. While it remains sealed, it only adds more years to its tally, thus enhancing the ever-growing legend that surrounds it.
The Final Word
We bet you weren’t expected such an old wine at the start of this article. While some collectors take pride in having wines that have aged for a hundred years or so, the Speyer Wine Bottle truly stands apart as the most aged wine in the world.