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325 A.D. was a Great Year for Wine

The Speyer Wine Bottle: To Open or Not to Open?

While researching for the Muse Stories podcast and associated video on ancient drinks, we came across a number of interesting items in collections across the world. One of my favorites is the bottle of wine, still corked and in liquid form, currently on display at the Pfalz Historical Museum in Germany. An ongoing debate to open and test the ancient wine has been discussed since it was excavated from the tomb of a Roman nobleman and noblewoman in 1867. Ironically, this piece of human history and symbolism was found during a time that is considered the golden age of wine (1810 to 1875).

After it was unearthed, the vessel traveled for a bit during the decade of World War I, and the German Kaiser had his chemists look over the vessel. It has since been dated from 325-359 A.D., over 1,650 years old. Made out of Roman glass and sealed using wax, the wine inside was probably kept in this state in part because of the thick olive oil that was added during bottling. Due to its location of internment it is believed that the wine was produced in what is modern-day Germany, possibly near the city of Speyer where the tomb was located.

Given the nearly 2,000-year-old vintage, the liquid is not quite wine anymore. The olive oil helped to preserve some of the original solution but the alcohol has long since morphed into something else. For the last 100 years this vessel has remained on display at the museum. It is doubtful that the liquid will ever be further analyzed anytime soon. There is a fear that once it is opened, the ancient wine will rapidly decay when exposed to the air. Although, wouldn’t it be interesting to try and recreate this ancient brew?

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