Old Wine

An ancient timeline for great old wine


This article was originally published on Nov 8, 2010. Somethings are too good to be locked away. I hope you enjoy discovering these ancient wines! 

Old wine -- What is it good for? Absolutely nothing. Aww, say it again. Huh! Right, while many bottles of old wine are indeed worth quite close to absolutely nothing, that's not reason enough to ignore them.

In fact, I spend a lot of time looking at, thinking about, and drinking old wine. When I'm talking about old wine I'm thinking of wines 20, 30, and even 40 years old or more. Most of the old wine that I see that's worth nothing tends to be on the younger end of that spectrum.

People always ask how much that bottle of 1995 Chateau Le Cache Flow might be worth. I mean, it has to be worth something, right? It is after all old wine, and old wine is worth plenty. We're talking big bucks. Well, not always. There are so many issues to take into account, the demand for that particular old wine, the way it's been stored over the years, what it looks like and if it's authentic. While thinking of all these old wine issues, I realized I have to write about really, really old wine. So, allow me to introduce you to some of the oldest wine, and wine-related topics, around.

Oldest remains of wine: 6,000 B.C.

Pottery jars discovered in the Republic of Georgia have been found to contain the remains of wines that date to somewhere around 6,000 B.C. Yes, that’s more than 8,000 years ago! Of course, there was no liquid left in any of the jars, but the sediment of an ancient vintage was enough to prove that wine once graced its interior.

Even more fascinating was the discovery of tree resin mixed in with the wine residue. Now that resin might have seeped in through a hastily prepared closure (cloth saturated in resin works a lot like duct tape!) or, as the scientists who discovered it prefer to believe, it was intentionally added to the wine as a preservative. Uh-huh. In any event, looks like Greece’s retsina is actually an import from Georgia. Sounds like the Yugo of the wine world!

Oldest wine still in production: 800 B.C.

The eastern Mediterranean makes some great wines, and while retsina doesn’t exactly make my list of those wines, Commandaria does. In ancient times, Commandaria was known as Manna -- manna from heaven, baby!

This luscious dessert wine, produced from sun-dried grapes, reputedly made such an impression on Marc Anthony that he gifted the entire island of Cyprus to his lover Cleopatra!
Whatever truth may lie in the story, the sweet wine of the Commandaria region of Cyrpus was being written about in 800 B.C., making it the oldest wine still being made more or less as it once was.

Oldest bottle of wine: 325 A.D.

The oldest bottle ever found with something resembling wine in was unearthed in Speyer, Germany, during the excavation of a foundation for a new house. The bottle dates from circa 325 A.D. and was discovered in 1867.

Tests performed on the liquid that makes up a portion of the contents of the bottle has proven that there is wine in the bottle. The majority of the liquid seems, improbably, to be olive oil. But the fact that there is olive oil in the bottle is not at all unusual. As olive oil floats on wine, it’s able to form a barrier and protect the wine from oxidation and decay. What seems entirely improbable is that someone only filled the bottle one-third full and then topped it off with so much oil. Could this actually be a cruet of ancient salad dressing? Think about it!

Oldest wine-producing region in the U.S.: 1550

OK, so this is going to come as a surprise: New Mexico. Not only is this state the location for one of the best domestic sparkling wine producers, but it’s also the location of the earliest vineyards for wine production in what was to become the United States. So, this is going to be hard to prove, but Spanish missionaries did bring vines with them to the New World. We do know this is fact, and we still have some mission vines around the state that can trace their roots back to those earliest imports.

Oldest Champagne producer: 1584

Established in 1584, the house of Gosset is the oldest wine producer in Champagne. In those days, however, the wine wasn’t the sparkling product that we know and love today. That process didn’t begin until the late 17th century, and for 125 years or so the practice of producing a sparkling wine by a second fermentation in the bottle was an inexact and accident-prone science. In any case, the Gosset family was certainly there at the creation of the Champagne wine industry.

Supposedly Pierre Gosset was known to produce mostly red wines in those early years, a surprising fact in light of the difficulty modern winemakers have with red varieties in Champagne, farmed as they are at the edge of viability. It’s cold there and the growing season is short, so the wines tend to be light in body and high in acidity, which is ideal for… you guessed it! Bubbles!

Oldest wine barrel: 1594

This is one gigantic barrel It holds about 144,000 liters and is five meters in diameter, took two years to build and was completed in 1594. Constructed in the German town of Gröningen, this behemoth was filled with wine to celebrate Danish King Christian IV’s royal visit. You would think these guys really knew how to party!

Wrong. It took these guys 12 years to drain the barrel. Man, talk about a hangover. After that debacle the barrel sat empty for hundreds of years. It was saved  from ruin in 1781 when one Lord Ludwig von Spiegel discovered the barrel and moved it to his hunting lodge, where it has sat, empty, for more than 200 years.

*News Flash*  July 30, 2010 – Some crazy restaurateur got the wacky idea to use the barrel once again! This past summer, 4,000 liters of Dornfelder were served to some lucky guests during a special celebration. It’s a good thing he stopped at 4,000 liters. Lord knows how long it might take to burn through 144,000 liters of Dornfelder!

Oldest family-owned winery in Spain: 1647

Bodegas Julian Chivite is the oldest family-owned winery in Spain. Eleven generations of Chivites have watched over this operation as it has expanded from its home base in Navarra to encompass estates in Rioja and Ribera del Duero.

Historical archives show that in August 1647 Juan Chivite Frías and his sister-in-law María Rubio borrowed 100 ducats for a land lease, guaranteeing the loan with collateral that included a winery able to produce 150 cántaros (1 cántaro equals roughly three gallon-barrels) and with vineyards that covered some 1,320 square feet, give or take. Well, I’ll tell you, 100 ducats don’t go nearly as far today as they used to!

Oldest South African winery: 1685

Oh, and maybe the most freaking beautiful too. Holy s%^t, Simon van de Stel must have crapped his pants when he arrived in the Cape of Good Hope region of South Africa in the late 17th century as its first commander. Having had viticultural experience in the Netherlands (not exactly vinous nirvana you know), Simon took one look at this place and said, “Let’s celebrate and tie one on”… in three or four years.

Vineyards were planted here in 1685 and Simon named his property Klein Constantia. In short order, the dessert wines known as Constantia emerged to compete with the world’s finest. I mean this stuff had some serious fans. We’re talking Napoleon, Dickens, and Baudelaire! And while all that is true, I included Baudelaire because it’s fun to say Baudelaire, even in one’s head while typing! Not that I do that kind of stuff. Baudelaire!

Oldest wine for sale: 1727

The oldest wine currently for sale seems to be a 1727 Rüdesheimer Apostelwein from Germany’s Rheingau region,and now in the Bremen Ratskeller.In this day and age of forgeries and adulterated wines, it’s good to know that one can fly down to the Bahamas and check into the Graycliff Hotel, and saunter over to the restaurant for a bottle of this nearly priceless nectar. You see, this wine was only bottled in the 1950s, so its authenticity is almost undeniable!

So next time you’re feeling like Bond, James Bond, head off on a tropical adventure. Just be careful, these things have a habit of turning nasty pretty quickly. Oh, and in case you’re curious, no, you can’t afford it. It’s $200,000, and that’s for a half-bottle!

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Mentioned in this article


  • When my daughters were born in 1983 and 1987, I bought about a dozen red wines of that years' vintage. Still have them.
    Is there are market to sell these? Or trade??

    Nov 08, 2010 at 2:05 PM

  • Snooth User: seveg
    105156 3

    the vineyard of Gaillac in France (near Toulouse) is said to be the first french vineyard to have exported amphoras of wine in the Mediterrannean sea during the second or the first century BC. That's why it was called "Gaillac", which means "from the chicken", which was the symbol of the first inhabitants of France, the Gallic people, and the amphoras were signed with a seal representing the cock (rooster;-)).
    But the first place to have had a vineyard in France seems to be the region around Massilia in the Provence, were the people from Phocea (greeks from nowadays Turkey) founded their settlement in the VIth century BC.

    Nov 08, 2010 at 3:29 PM

  • Simon van der Stel's wine estate was actually called Groot Constantia (rather than Klein Constantia, which is a much later subdivision of Groot Constantia). Groot Constantia is one of the few wine estates on the Cape Peninsula. It is a great place for a day out, and the original Cape Dutch style buildings are still there.

    Nov 08, 2010 at 4:57 PM

  • depends on the type of wine you bought entirely and ,of course, how its been kept since

    Nov 08, 2010 at 5:38 PM

  • Snooth User: rottnie
    601232 8

    "1727 Rüdesheimer Apostelwein from Bremen Ratskeller in Germany’s Rheingau region". The Bremen Ratskeller (Town Hall cellar) is in Bremen which is a long way from the Rheingau region. The Apostelwein, which is no doubt from the Rheingau, apparently comes from a barrel located in the Ratskeller in Bremen. The restaurant there has a very extensive wine list/book. Rod Wilson, Australia.

    Nov 08, 2010 at 5:53 PM

  • Snooth User: duncan 906
    Hand of Snooth
    425274 2,626

    If you are in the UK you can sell wine using the http://www.bidforwine.co.uk website

    Nov 08, 2010 at 6:45 PM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,749

    Thanks for pointing out the error in editing rottnie. It has been corrected.

    Nov 08, 2010 at 6:48 PM

  • Snooth User: duncan 906
    Hand of Snooth
    425274 2,626

    I know this has been said before; I like these articles but still do not understand why I have to click so many times and why it takes so long to download each portion

    Nov 08, 2010 at 6:48 PM

  • Snooth User: rodchoy
    125029 1

    I can answer your question, Duncan. This is the way how snooth can expose advertisment to us 9 times.

    Nov 08, 2010 at 11:00 PM

  • Le plus vieux vin au monde est conservé dans le chai des Hospices de Strasbourg. Il date de 1472
    The oldest bottle of wine is kept in the Hospices de Strasbourg, Alsace and dates back from 1472.
    Here is a link to a today's version that I drank recently and reviewed here:
    see my review here: http://www.ourfrenchimpressions.com...
    Enjoy...with moderation!

    Nov 09, 2010 at 5:10 AM

  • Snooth User: joopheij
    607329 16

    there are many older family owned wineries in the world:


    Nov 09, 2010 at 7:44 AM

  • Snooth User: Centurian
    522952 17

    The photo shows dusty presumably aged bottles standing upright.

    Are there pros and cons of storing wine upright vs on its side?

    Nov 09, 2010 at 10:52 AM

  • Snooth User: Chris Salvatori
    Hand of Snooth
    93847 123

    Hey Greg - when you mentioned the oldest vineyard in SA dates to 1685 the year sounded very familiar.
    I just acquired some wine from Boschendal Winery in Cape Town (memories from a class trip when back at CBS in 2003), where the label, and their website, states that they also date their history back to 1685.

    Nov 09, 2010 at 11:19 AM

  • Snooth User: Chris Salvatori
    Hand of Snooth
    93847 123

    One more historical tidbit ... about old Spanish wineries...
    The winery, Fermi Bohigas, where we get our Rossinyol de Moragas cava, and where I had the pleasure of visiting a few months ago, is perhaps older than Bodegas Julian Chivite.

    The family has owned the estate for over 4 centuries, but have been producing wine even longer than that. Coincidentally, when I was there in April, the winemaker/owner, Jordi Cassanovas, was in the process of passing on the estate to his daughter, who is also an oenologist.
    Also interesting was that she had just given birth a few days prior, so there are already signs of another 2 generations keeping the family traditional alive.

    Nov 09, 2010 at 11:27 AM

  • ok i am going crazy here..!! i got two bottles of same wine..not sure from where..present but cannot trace where i got them..absolutly the best red wine i have tasted in YEARS..!! But cannot find them, had wine specialists in Holland trying to track them down..without luck..!!! PLEASE HELP..!!
    Tried wines from same area..no comparison..any ideas where they maybe available..? tried the website from Peth-Wetz but no answer...anyone heard of this wine..??
    Alan Baxter

    Nov 09, 2010 at 1:39 PM

  • Snooth User: maffe
    146867 51

    Talking about ancient sparkling wine, one should mention the predecessor of Champagne: the Blanquette de Limoux, from the Languedoc-Roussillon region in France. It's mentioned in documents as early as 1531. It's still being made today and is a dangerously nice and inexpensive alternative to Champagne.

    Nov 09, 2010 at 2:58 PM

  • Snooth User: lalise
    390457 1

    So this was a very fun and very light look at old wines. I'd love to see something a little more in depth on what will age well and what won't, why you'd age them and what the taste, aroma, etc differences are. Love the snooth

    Nov 09, 2010 at 10:24 PM

  • Snooth User: navegar
    266077 1

    1727 Rüdesheimer Apostelwein

    $200,000? I do not think so.


    indicates this wine last sold at "Price Realized £825"

    according to another site:

    The story of this wine is briefly as follows: The city of Bremen owns the famous Ratskeller or town hall,
    underneath which is a legendary cellar known as the Schatzkammer (treasury cellar). In here are 12 very large
    elaborately carved casks of wine dating from the 17th and 18th century, named after the 12 Apostles. The oldest
    dates from 1653, but the wine is no longer drinkable. The most famous is the Judas cask, containing Rudesheim
    wine of the 1727 vintage, by repute the greatest vintage of the 18th century. Wine from this cask has never been
    sold, but periodically very small quantities have been bottled as civic gifts from the Bremen municipality to
    important dignitaries, visiting heads of state, royalty etc. When any wine has been drawn off like this, the cask
    (about 3000 litres + in capacity) has been topped up with young Rudesheim wine of the finest quality. In this way
    the barrel has been refreshed, as the old wine feeds on the sugars in the younger one. But only a handful of half
    bottles have ever been drawn off at one time, and so this top-up wine only constitutes a tiny percentage of the
    overall volume, the vast bulk of which is still the original 1727.

    This is, quite simply, the oldest drinkable wine in existence.

    Here are Michael Broadbent's notes on this wine:

    This wine comes from a large cask in the famous ’12 apostles’ cellar beneath the Town Hall or Ratskeller in
    Bremen. The first time this appeared in a Christie’s wine catalogue was in 1829 when it sold for 5 pounds per
    dozen, a high price at the time. An occasional half bottle has appeared at auction since that date, mainly over the
    past 30 years. The wine is drawn from the mother cask which is then topped up with a young Rudesheimer of
    appropriate quality. In this way the large volume of the old wine is kept refreshed. I first tasted the 1727 at Schloss
    Vollrads in 1973 at a tasting of wines of the world to celebrate Count Matushka’s 80th birthday. Another
    memorable occasion took place at a dinner in Sydney on the evening of my first visit to Australia in February
    1977. By way of welcome, my host, the irrepressible Len Evans had invited the Prime Minister and a group of the
    best ‘palates’. Among other fine and rare wines was this 250 year old Hock. Just as it was about to be served,
    there was a shattering crash followed by an agonized Australian voice ‘Gee Len, sorry we’ll just have to have the
    1928’! (The ‘waiter’ Anders Ousbach, who had dropped a handful of spoons, was a wine expert and opera singer
    known for his practical jokes).

    On my second visit to Bremen in 1981, I was able to taste the wine from the cask. It had an amber straw colour,
    the smell of old apples and a nutty appley taste. Dry, good length. High acidity. More recently, from a half bottle
    ‘Réserve du Bremer Ratskeller’: it was paler than I had previously noted, Secial Madeira-like colour, bouquet also
    reminded me of an old Madeira, then more like a raya sherry. After 2 hours in the glass a smell of rich old stables
    and an hour after that, an amazing pungency lingered in the empty glass. On the palate medium-dry, lightish
    weight, a soft, gentler, slightly toasted old straw flavor, tolerable acidity,and clean finish. *****

    Nov 10, 2010 at 2:23 PM

  • Hey Sal, open those bottles and start drinking them. I have the feeling they're probably not worthy for trade or as collectible unless you chose them carefully to begin with.

    Nov 12, 2010 at 7:40 AM

  • Snooth User: atonalprime
    Hand of Snooth
    157790 1,416

    Great article with bits of trivia I'm hoping will come up on a pub quiz some night.

    Dec 03, 2010 at 4:04 PM

  • I love older wines, especially older Germans from the Mosel. Take a look at this! http://downtoearthwine.blogspot.com...

    Dec 30, 2010 at 8:31 PM

  • Sal, 1983 and 1987 might be ok or evn very good. But generally you need to pay a lot in the first place for that to be so, or to deliberately buy wines that age well like Barolo. Most wine from then will be rubbish by now.

    Your question cant be answered unless you list the wines

    Mar 03, 2011 at 5:12 AM

  • Snooth User: Maddog One
    1016992 2

    About 40 years ago when I was actively purchasing wines at auction in London, I acquired a case of 1919 Romanée-Conti at Christie's. The case lay undisturbed in my cellar in California for the next 10 years. Then in 1981 a good friend and I decided we would give it a try and uncorked one of the bottles with the greatest ullage (high shoulders). When decanted it showed an extremely pale hue of pink, so thin that we thought the wine had most probably died sometime back in the 1950's. What greeted our noses and pallets was nothing short of astounding. Had I not seen it's pale appearance I would have guessed it to be forty years younger; a powerhouse of incredible complexity that transcended its age and appearance. One of the most impressive wines I've ever had and probably the most memorable.

    Oct 31, 2012 at 4:28 PM

  • Snooth User: giorrgii
    1032385 23

    Dear Gregory, would you mind visiting Georgia, where the oldest wine remnants were found and which is has 500 varieties of local grapes? I can give you a good tour to best wineries here.

    Oct 31, 2012 at 6:44 PM

  • Snooth User: pete1
    1155046 9

    Interesting article. Some older wines are absolutely wonderful, and can be quite pricey. For example, you would be very fortunate to have a case of 1961 Petrus...


    Nov 01, 2012 at 2:51 PM

  • "Oldest wine-producing region in the U.S.: 1550" Maybe, but, I will check it out. The oldest that I am aware of is the MOTHER Vine in Manteo NC. IT was there from the Jamestown era which I believe may be earlier than the New Mexico vines.

    Nov 02, 2012 at 2:30 AM

  • Snooth User: EMark
    Hand of Snooth
    847804 7,845

    I finally found time to read this one and it is a very fun article.

    I hope Azalea comes back with the proof. That would be very interesting.

    And I think you should consider that trip to Georgia, Greg. It is interesting that I see more conversation on that area, lately.

    Nov 03, 2012 at 7:15 PM

  • Any thoughts on what shape the wines on the Titanic might be in?

    Nov 10, 2012 at 10:24 PM

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