The 1540 Vintage in the Bürgerspital Wine Cellar

-the oldest wine in the world?

 It is probably the oldest wine in the world. This wine treasure appears like it is covered by a thin dust layer and slightly bent from his old age; it was bottled in the days of Anne Boleyn, Martin Luther, Nostradamus, Johannes Calvin, Emperor Charles V., and at the beginning of the Renaissance, which also spread north of the Alps. The current home of this precious wine bottle with still the same content is the spacious wine cellar of the Wurtzburg Bürgerspital VDP wine estate. This wine together with other historic old wines has been being stored here, in a wooden box with a glass plate, widely protected in an alcove, for as long as fifty years.

The grapes harvested in the autumn of 1540 were grown in the famous Wurtzburg “Stein” top vineyard, before they were vinified in the State Court Wine Cellar. Then, during the hottest summer in living memory (1540 heat year*), certainly nobody had the idea that this wine once would obtain the predicate “millennium wine”. Today I had the opportunity to have a closer look at and to take photos of this precious wine, which mostly is locked up. Robert Haller, the manager of the wine estate, told me something about the weary voyage of this 1540 wine.

During the turmoils of World War II, the Jewish Simon family took along the last bottle of the 1540 “Stein” wine with themselves when they escaped to England. During the 1960ies, Henry G. Simon, descendant of the escaped Wiesbaden vintners’ family, offered the wine to the State Court Wine Cellar, but nobody there was interested, even though the wine stemmed from the Court Wine Cellar. Then Simon addressed to the Bürgerspital. Rudolf Fries, then master cellarer and later manager of the wine estate, heard about it. Fries started to negotiate with Simon and achieved to keep the wine treasure as a loan, thus, Simon handed over five precious wine bottles, among them being that bottle of the 1540 vintage, to Fries and to the custody of the Bürgerspital wine estate. Simon decreed: “The wine is to come back to its home and to be stored in Wurtzburg forever.”


Henry G. Simon is now deceased. His wife and two daughters have to approve the whereabouts in the winery Civic Hospital - a decision has not yet fallen. “So, it’s not certain if we’ll be allowed to keep the wines further or forever”, Robert Haller says. In the wine estate, they have also thought about a solution in case the owners want to store these bottles themselves or even sell them one day. “For this case, we are thinking of a copy, to as to keep at least the history of these wine rarities, which were born here,” Robert Haller says. 

And how does this legendary vintage taste? What an unseemly question, which I can answer to some extent, however. In 1961, a tasting of rarities took place in London, to which “wine pope” Hugh Johnson was invited. Johnson could take two sips from the second bottle of that 1540 wine, which was poured into a glass. Jonson noted: “Before the wine vanished by air contact, it was still astonishingly vivid. Nothing has shown me so clearly by now that wine is veritably a living organism.” 


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