Oldest wine in the world found in Spain

In 2019, a glass cinerary urn containing a reddish liquid was discovered in a 1st century Roman mausoleum in Carmona, southern Spain. Liquids don’t usually stay liquid for thousands of years — if they survive in any form it’s as residue absorbed by the vessel — so the discovery was exceptional. Now a study of the liquid has determined that the liquid is white wine, making it the oldest wine in the world.

The mausoleum was discovered under a house in Carmona during renovations. Likely a family tomb, the vaulted enclosure had eight loculi (funerary niches) in the wall. Six of them contained urns with cremation remains and a few grave goods. Loculus 8 contained a glass cinerary urn with M-shaped handles inside a lead case with a lid. The urn held cremated bone remains, a gold ring carved with an image of two-faced Janus, four metal objects that may have been the feet of the bed on which he was cremated and was full to the brim with more than a gallon of reddish liquid.

Archaeologists were able to exclude the possibility that the liquid had filled the urn from a flood or leak or condensation. There was no spillover, no evidence of water penetration anywhere else in the tomb and the urn in the neighboring niche, Loculus 7, which was under the exact same conditions as Loculus 8, was dry. Because wine was an important part of religious rituals in ancient Roman culture, including in funerary offerings, archaeologists had reason to believe the reddish liquid might be wine or the remains thereof, placed in the urn to accompany the deceased to the underworld.

Researchers from the University of Córdoba analyzed samples of the liquid to determine its composition. They found that it had a PH 7.5, close to neutral, and contained biomarkers that are exclusive to wine. High-performance liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (HPLC-MS) identified seven wine polyphenols all of which matched those in modern wines produced in this area of Andalucía, including dessert wines from Montilla-Moriles, sherry-type wines from Jerez, and manzanilla from Sanlúcar.

They then used inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS) to determine the chemical elements in the mineral salts of the wine. The lack of syringic acid, a polyphenol found when the pigment in red wine decomposes, and the mineral salt profile confirmed that it was white wine. The findings are supported by local mosaics depicting people trampling white grapes.

The study has been published in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports and can be read in its entirety here.

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