Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Oldest Wine in the World?

Earlier this month, in Xhina, China, archaeologists of the Baoji Archaeology Institute released information that they may have unearthed what could be the oldest container of wine in the world.  It is definitely the oldest wine ever found in China.

Chinese Wine
The reports indicate that six bronze vessels, measuring measure about 3 feet long and 8.25 inches high, were discovered in Shaanixi province in the Shigushan Mountains in Baoji City.  The containers were located in the tomb of a nobleman of the West Zhou Dynasty (1046 BC – 771 BC.)

Archaeologists said that one of the vessels contained a liquid that could be heard when shaken. Wine containers of that period could be used for the heating and storage of wine, as flasks or drinking sets, and were ornately decorated.  The containers that were discovered were sealed with what they are calling a “prohibition device” and could not be opened at that time.

This prohibition device was created during the Western Zhou Dynasty to limit excess drinking.  During the previous Shang Dynasty (1600 BC – 1046 BC), wine became a symbol of vice and corruption, so access to it was limited in the West Zhou Dynasty.  China is thought to be one of the oldest wine drinking cultures in the world.

The finding of this prohibition device is actually considered to be a greater discovery than the potential wine. The square shaped device was fitted on top of a wine vessel to limit the amount that could be poured and drank at any one time.

The liquid in the container will be tested to determine what it is.  However, it may not turn out to be a wine made from wild grapes. In China, wine made from rice, fruit and honey was more common.  If it is indeed wine, it will replace the Roman wine found in Germany in 1867 as the oldest wine in the world.

Roman Wine
The Roman wine is thought to be over 1,650 years old and sealed with wax.  It was discovered in 1867 during an excavation to build a house, near Speyer, one of the oldest cities in Germany.  The wine was buried in the sarcophagus of a Roman Nobleman from the 4th Century.

The yellow-green container was one of several discovered at the site, but the only one to still contain wine.  Researchers believe that olive oil was floated on top of the wine to preserve it from oxidation.  It is said that during WW I, Kaiser Wilhelm’s chemists analyzed the white liquid and determined it to be wine.

There was talk of opening the bottle in 2011, but earlier this year museum officials decided that would be too risky of a proposition.  According to Ludger Tekampeone of the museum officials, “It’s not clear what would happen if air gets into the wine.”  Scientists were wanting to test the liquid to see exactly how old it is, what type of grape it is made from, and if it did indeed come from a local vineyard of the time.

The bottle has remained on permanent display at the History Museum of the Palatinate in Speyer, Germany for over 100 years.  It is located in their Wine Museum, the first such museum open to the public.  You may take a virtual tour of the Weinmuseum here,

Wine has been a part of our world culture, cuisine, and cultivation for thousands of years.  Archaeology shows that the earliest known production of wine occurred in Georgia around 6,000 BC.  The earliest proof of wine production in Europe dates back 6,500 years ago in Greece.  And in China, traces of wild wine date from the second and first millennium BC.

It will be interesting to see if this is the oldest container of wine yet found in the world, and how China handles it’s discovery.  Meanwhile, oenophiles around the world will raise a glass and await the results.  Enjoy!

~ Joy