The age or vintage and a correspondingly high price have a direct connection for top wines. Qualitatively outstanding old wines are usually very expensive. The fact that wines in principle become better with age is an often quoted, but nevertheless wrong fairy tale, and is reserved only for top products under certain conditions. Such crescences are characterised by sometimes extremely long shelf life. In the course of bottle aging, the optimal drinking maturity is reached at a certain point in time, but even this does not last forever. This means that even with long-lasting wines, the peak is exceeded at some point. The fact is that very old vintages are often sold at auctions at astronomical prices. Usually, the oldest crescents are found among the high alcohol, fortified dessert wines as Madeira, port wine, sherry, etc. The following list includes very old wines that were still edible.
The oldest example is the famous "Opimian", a Falernian from 121 B.C. Pliny the Elder (23-79) wrote about the wine, which was well over a hundred years old, that it had thickened to a kind of bitter honey, but was still recognizable as wine. A sweet Würzburg Stein vintage 1540 from Franconia was tasted in 1961. At 421 years of age, it was thus probably the oldest wine ever drunk and still enjoyable. One bottle of it is still stored in the cellar of the Bürgerspital. Another very old crescent was the Luther wine from Donnerskirchen (Burgenland, Austria). This wine from the year 1526 was tasted in 1852 (at the age of 326). The next in the ranking is a Riesling vintage 1748 from Johannisberg Castle in the Rheingau, which was served to the poet prince Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) on his 66th birthday and was still enjoyable in 1985 at the age of 237. The fifth example is a Forster Monster (Palatinate) of the famous vintage 1811, which at a tasting in 1999 (i.e. 186 years old) was not only judged to be edible but exuberantly grandiose.
By their very nature, sparkling wines, because of the way they are made, have a much shorter shelf life than still wines and, unlike the latter, should generally be drunk as soon as possible after purchase. Nevertheless, there have been several finds of very old bottles in sunken shipwrecks that were still edible. The "ideal storage conditions" (dark, cool, high pressure, quiet storage) are responsible for this, so to speak. For example, this was a more than 90 year old champagne "Heidsieck-Monopole - Goût Américain" vintage 1907, which was recovered from a shipwreck in 1998 (see under Heidsieck). But the record holder is a Veuve-Clicquot from 1839, discovered in July 2010, which after more than 170 years was not only edible but even tasted excellent. A total of 162 bottles of different brands were found.
The Historical Museum of the Palatinate in Speyer owns in the "Wine Museum" probably the oldest liquid vine wine that has been preserved. However, the liquid is certainly inedible. The so-called "Roman wine from Speyer" dates back to the first half of the 4th century AD and is thus around 1,700 years old. The cylindrical, greenish-yellow glass bottle, similar to an amphora, with a flat neck and two dolphin-shaped handles, contains a liquid, clear sediment and almost two thirds of a solid, resinous mixture. Corresponding analyses showed that it was most likely originally wine. However, the alcohol contained in the wine has completely evaporated in the course of the extremely long time. The bottle was found, together with other grave goods, in a Roman stone sarcophagus together with 16 almost intact other but empty glass vessels outside the gates of the city of Speyer.
A plausible explanation for the fact that just in one bottle a remainder was preserved could be that at the time of the burial only little wine but a lot of olive oil was left. The Romans usually used olive oil to seal the wine from the air. Cork stoppers were basically known, but they were unusual for permanent bottle storage, as the thin mouth-blown glasses were not suitable for pressed cork. The little wine was once poured into the glass bottle together with a seasoning mixture, on top of which came the rest of the olive oil, which was considerably larger in quantity and which, in its resinous form, was sufficient to preserve the "Roman wine" until it was hot. The volume of the bottle is 1.75 litres (Source: Historisches Museum Pfalz, Catalogue "Weinmuseum", p. 48f and Catalogue "Antikensammlung", p. 11).
A famous collector of old and special wines is the Frenchman François Audouze (*1943). See the list of century wines (about 140 top wines) and most expensive wines in the world (Top-20). For more extraordinary specialities in viticulture see under Records.