According to the Guinness world record for the underground winery, the most extensive underground operating cellar in the world is at Mileștii Mici in the Chinisau region of The Republic of Moldova. The cellar is 220 km long, out of which only 55km is currently used. The cellar holds over 1.5 million bottles of wines dating back to 1973. While the largest underground wine city continues to decade-old quality wines around the globe, most people find it difficult to believe that the oldest wine bottle is not from here.
Figure 1: Roemerwein in Speyer
The oldest wine bottle was recovered from a tomb in modern-day Germany. The bottle is around 1.5 liters glass bottle that dates back to the 4th century. Wine historians suggest that the wine was produced around 325CE, putting the age of the wine at approximately 1,650 years (and counting). The wine was excavated in 1867 from a tomb of the Roman era and is suspected to belong to a woman, probably the wife of a Roman nobleman.
The bottle is popularly known as the Speyer wine bottle and Römerwein. The taste of this wine is still a topic of research, and many experts have diverse opinions and ambiguities about the quality of the wine. However, we may never find out about the wine because it’s still sealed and not for public consumption. Wine experts are not sure what will happen to the contents of the bottle when it is opened and exposed to air; as such, they believe it is best to let it remain sealed the way it was found — with a stopper that is made with olive oil and wax.
This iconic wine bottle is now showcased in the Palatinate Museum in Germany for everyone to see. Some wine lovers describe the Speyer wine as the vintage of vintage wines.
Aging has done this 1650-year-old wine no good
Generally, aging helps wines to improve their overall quality, taste, and flavor. This explains why vintage wines carry higher price tags than their younger counterparts. However, it doesn’t seem to be the case with Römerwein.
Having spent over 1650 years on God’s green earth, researchers and scientists believe that alcohol in the bottle has almost vanished. But that’s the least worrisome finding. Results from the scientific analysis suggested that the bottle’s content has some traces of wine. The big question now that’s causing so much buzz and pricking people’s imagination is, “what exactly is contained in the bottle if it contains what is suspected to be wine?”
Going back in time
Back then, they made and bottled olive oil wine. They also added the oil on top of the wine bottles. This was done to preserve the wine by preventing air from entering the bottle.
This method of wine preservation might have worked at the time, but its major setback is that it is not effective in aging wine for a more extended period — that is, centuries of aging in the case of the Speyer. It is believed that the bottle today contains a clear liquid that has almost lost all of its alcohol content — this translates to zero ethanol. In addition to that, two-thirds of the bottle is filled with a firm mixture that looks like rosin.
Many researchers argue that the olive oil is the reason why the wine survived for that many years — because of the thick olive layer that is formed over the liquid inside the bottle. Another reason for the durability is the material that was used to make the cork. The winemakers of the bottle used a cork made from wax instead of conventional corks that would have degraded or rotted. What is surprising for many researchers is how the glass bottle remained intact (unbroken).
The oldest wine cellar in the world
From the most prominent underground cellar in the world in Moldova to the world’s oldest wine bottle in Germany, the journey to the oldest wine cellar in the world leads to Nahariya in Northern Israel. According to archaeological findings, the cellar can be traced to 1700BC. The archaeologist believes that a banquet hall – close to a Canaanite palace- was used as a cellar.
The pottery extracted from the site include ceramic jars numbering over 40 with a combined capacity of 13 gallons. Chemical analysis performed on the jars show that they once held primo wine. This kind of wine is usually a blend of cinnamon barks, mint, tree resins, and honey. Evidence from the cellar/storeroom site shows that the banquet hall was destroyed by a natural disaster in 1600BC — maybe an earthquake.
So, based on available records, since Mileștii Mici is the most extensive underground cellar in the world and has some of the oldest wines on its shelves, the chances are that it is the largest old bottle cellar in the world. See more resources here
On this day
1867 — The oldest wine bottle dating back to 325 AD was found in the tombstone of a Roman nobleman in Germany. It was unearthed in 1867 and is currently on display in the German history museum in Speyer.
August 2005 — Mileștii Mici, the most extensive underground cellar globally, won the Guinness world record for the wine cellar with the highest number of wine bottles.
- “Scienceshot: World’s Oldest Wine Cellar?”. 2022. Science.Org. https://www.science.org/content/article/scienceshot-worlds-oldest-wine-cellar#:~:text=Archaeologists%20excavating%20a%203700%2Dyear,about%2050%20liters%20of%20liquid.
- 2022. https://futurism.com/meet-the-worlds-oldest-bottle-of-wine-2.
- 2022. https://theworld.org/stories/2013-11-22/worlds-oldest-wine-cellar-unearthed-israel.
Immanuel Giel, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons