At 2,200 Years Old, Archeologists May Have Found The Oldest, Non-Evaporated Wine

Published March 23, 2018

A research team in China found 10 fluid ounces of preserved rice wine. Turns out, it's pretty similar to the stuff we drink today.

Old Wine

Li Yibo, Xinhua/ sci-news.comThe 2,200 bronze kettle and the wine found in it.

If it’s true wine gets better with age, the wine discovered by a team of researchers from the Shaanxi Provincial Institute of Archeology must be the absolute best.

Discovered while excavating 56 ancient tombs in China’s Shaanxi province, the 2,200 year-old wine was found in a bronze kettle that dates back to the Qin Dynasty (221-207 BC). Because the kettle was sealed shut with plants and natural fibers, the liquor was able to be preserved.

“The liquor was milky white when we found it, and was a little muddy,” Said archaeologist Dr. Zhang Yanglizheng, one of the researchers involved in the excavation project.

As it turns out, this type of wine wasn’t confined to antiquity. “Later test showed that it was composed of high concentration amino acid substances and also small amounts of protein and fatty acids,” Yanglizheng said, explaining that this “made it similar to yellow rice wine we drink nowadays.”

It wasn’t just a few sips either. “Surprisingly, we found about 10 fl oz (300 ml) of liquor in it,” Yanglizheng told reporters. That’s a little less than half a bottle of wine.

The bronze kettle containing the ancient wine is a sacrificial vessel and was one of 260 items found in the tombs. It was found in a grave alongside a bronze sword, leading researchers to believe that buried man may have been a soldier.

But what’s even more notable is that the grave was clearly not one of a nobleman, which could indicate that 2,000 years ago enjoying alcohol was a common and widespread practice in Qin.

In case you’re wondering, the title of oldest bottle of wine ever found goes to the Speyer wine bottle. Found in Speyer, Germany in 1867, it dates back to about 350 A.D. Of course, a kettle is not a bottle, perhaps Shaanxi discovery can rightly claim the title of oldest vessel of wine ever discovered.

The oldest evidence of any fermented beverage is a 9,000-year-old grape wine consisting of fermented rice, honey, also found in China in the Henan Province. The Henan Provide neighbors Shaanxi to the east. So perhaps this region of China was prone to wine snobs in ancient times.

Cheers to that.

If you found this article interesting, you may want to check out the 4,000-year-old brain tissue that was preserved after boiling in its own fluids. Then you can read about the 106-year-old perfectly preserved fruitcake found in Antartica.

Kara Goldfarb
Kara Goldfarb is a writer living in New York City who holds a Bachelor's degree in journalism from Ithaca College and hosts a podcast for Puna Press.