Lying in the Cave Historique des Hospices de Strasbourg in France is a very old wine. It is an Alsatian white wine made 20 years before Christopher Columbus set sail from Palos de la Frontera in Southern Spain to explore the Americas.
Having been around for more than half a millennia it’s not surprising that the barrel it was originally housed in failed and was replaced in 1718. After it was discovered that the newer barrel was leaking last April (2014) the wine was transferred to a steel vat whilst a new barrel was made to house it. Apparently, this week the wine was transferred to the new barrel built by people from the Radoux cooperage in France.
Incredibly this wine has only been tasted four times.
The first was in 1576 to celebrate an unlikely alliance between Strasbourg and Zürich, Switzerland. Strasbourg doubted that Zurich, around 150 miles away, would be a useful partner. The Swiss overcame French doubts by bringing porridge to them in under a day. This is now celebrated in the Hirsebreifahrt, or millet porridge trip, every ten years.
The second was in 1718 to celebrate the laying of the first stone of what would become Strasbourg’s first public hospital.
The third was during the Second World War. On 23rd November 1944 General Philippe Leclerc de Hauteclocque led the 2nd French Armoured Division in liberating Strasbourg, the capital of Alsace, from German occupation.
Finally, in 1994 tests were conducted by the department in charge of policing products and preventing fraud, the Direction Générale de la Concurrence, de la Consommation et de la Répression des Fraudes (DGCCRF). Seemingly they also tasted it as apart from remarking that the wine has an ABV of 9.4% they also said:
“the old thing has maintained an astonishing sprightliness… a powerful, very fine aroma.”
This is a pretty remarkable story… a little too remarkable… whilst researching I noted that Philippe Junger, in charge of the cellars, said in 2003 in an article from Jancis Robinson:
“About one percent of the volume evaporates each year, it’s the angels’ share, so we add a bottle of dry white wine every three months.”
Being the wine geeks that we are, it seemed to us that if this was the case then probably not much of the original wine would now be left. Using our rusty maths the Charles Rose Wines team reckons that in fact less than 1% of the original wine would now be present.
Can we really still call this a 1472 vintage? Junger also said:
“… in this barrel there is dry matter from at least 300 litres of 1472 wine, so it remains a 1472 vintage.”
Perhaps for such a historically significant wine we can just give it the benefit of the doubt.