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A 2000 year-old vintage: The world’s oldest wine discovered

The discovery comes from a Roman tomb in Carmona. Here the skeletal remains of a man was immersed in a liquid inside a glass funerary urn.

French wine consumption has been on the decline for decades
French wine consumption has been on the decline for decades - Copyright GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP/File JUSTIN SULLIVAN
French wine consumption has been on the decline for decades - Copyright GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP/File JUSTIN SULLIVAN

A white wine dated to over 2,000 years old, of Andalusian origin, has been declared the oldest wine ever discovered. The discovery comes from University of Córdoba researchers.

The discovery comes from a Roman tomb in Carmona. Here the skeletal remains of a man were immersed in a liquid inside a glass funerary urn. This liquid, which over time has acquired a reddish hue, has been preserved since the first century AD.

This enabled researchers from the Department of Organic Chemistry to identify the liquid as the oldest wine yet discovered.

The previous record for the oldest wine was held by the Speyer wine bottle, which was discovered in 1867 and which dates to the fourth century CE. This wine is preserved in the Historical Museum of Pfalz (Germany).

With the discovery a Carmora the main reason why the wine has lasted relates to the tomb remaining fully intact and well-sealed. Particular environmental conditions within the tomb allowed the wine to maintain its natural state.

Jewel of Roman Empire lies neglected in Libya chaos
One of the few visitors to the ancient Roman city of Leptis Magna in Libya looks at the Arch of Septimius Severus – Copyright AFP Mahmud TURKIA

To show that the liquid was wine, the chemists studied the liquid’s pH, absence of organic matter, mineral salts, the presence of certain chemical compounds that could be related to the glass of the urn, or the bones of the deceased; and compared the data to current Montilla-Moriles, Jerez and Sanlúcar wines. These are the wines associated with Carmona and this region produces mainly sweet dessert wines using similar techniques to those used for the production of sherry.

The most important part of the analysis related to assessing for polyphenols, biomarkers present in all wines. These were found to be present although the absence of a specific polyphenol, syringic acid, served to identify the wine as white.

Furthermore, the mineral salts present in the tomb’s liquid were determined to be consistent with the white wines currently produced in the territory – including the Montilla-Moriles wines of today.

It is thought the wine, together as other items such as the rings and perfume, were part of a funerary trousseau intended to accompany the deceased in their voyage into the afterlife.

The chemical analysis confirmed the liquid was, in fact, wine. The research appears in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, with the paper titled “New archaeochemical insights into Roman wine from Baetica.”

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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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