In search of older used barrels that have outlived their life, it’s not uncommon to see some vintners hold their wine in barrels for up to a decade … or more. Most of the barrels we receive at Paso Wine Barrels are six to eight years of age. Wine might be stored in a barrel for that long or possibly two or even three vintages could have been processed through a particular wine barrel. However, there’s one wine that is a bit older than that – say about five plus centuries older.
Hospices de Strasbourg
Near the border of France and Germany on the Rhine River in the Alsace region, at the center of the European Union in Strasbourg, France, is the oldest wine known to exist in a barrel. It is a cellared 1472 vintage white wine stored at the Hospices de Strasbourg. The reason I bring this story up is the fact the wine has been transferred from a nearly 300 year old barrel into a new one because the ancient barrel was starting to leak. For the record, the wine was transferred one other time, in 1718.
The cool damp caves of the Hospice hold giant wine barrels that to this day produce high caliber white wines. Renovated roughly 20 years ago, the Hospice (also known as a hospital) has cared for the wine, in its caves, throughout its history. This particular 1472 vintage is topped off a few times a year – because wine evaporates (called the ‘angel’s share’) – but otherwise has survived the test of time. These very old caves under the Hospice were built in 1395. Yes, it goes back to medieval times. Interesting side note, people back in the day, would pay for medical aid by bringing wine or even vines to the hospital.
Still fine after all these years
The acidic wine has been tasted only a few times through history with last being when eastern France was liberated from Germany in 1944. A typical light white wine with 9.4% alcohol and golden amber hue, it is said to still have a fine bouquet. When tested in 1994, it was stated the wine had aromas of:
“vanilla, honey, beeswax, camphor, fine spices, hazelnut and fruit liqueur …”
Personally, it’s hard to believe a wine can be aged that long and have anything left that resembles wine, let alone still offering a good aroma. One of my friends in the wine business, who has a bit of a stubborn streak, continues to hold on to dozens and dozens of old barreled wine here in Paso Robles that’s going on two decades of aging. So maybe 543 year old wine from 1472 is possible. Yet, what about oxidation?
Regardless, this extremely old egg-shaped barreled Alsatian wine exists in Strasbourg. Built by experts from the famous Radoux cooperage in Cognac, the new approximately 120 gallon container will continue preserving the legendary wine safely until – When? I don’t know. Maybe when we have the next World War … ?
Daryle W. Hier