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Thursday, 9 December, 1999, 17:01 GMT
Experts savour 300-year-old wine

A vintage wine with a difference


Tasters sampling a bottle of 17th Century wine which lay buried for more than 300 years in London have declared it: "fresh, clean, lively and a remarkable find".

The ancient wine, discovered during the excavation of the city's Spitalfields Market, was uncorked during a sampling session at the Museum of London.

The wine experts, who tasted a small sample extracted by syringe, identified the tipple as a dry Madeira and said it was better than they had expected.

Two glass wine bottles, thought to date back to 1670 and 1680, were found in the remains of the cellar of the Master Gunner's House, a property known to have been destroyed in 1682.

Scientific tests on one of the bottles, which was excavated with its seal intact, revealed the liquid inside contained alcohol, fusel oils and tartaric acid, consistent with "a wine of grape origin".

Although the alcohol level is now low at 6.25%, experts believe it is likely to have been higher when it was first produced.

The tests also showed low sugar levels indicating the wine was originally of the dry variety and the glycerol content was high, indicating the grapes originated from a warm climate.

Mystery tipple

The bottles, thought to be among the earliest of their kind, will provide important information for historians studying the habits of Londoners in the 17th century.

Wine was drunk in copious amounts during the 17th century with taverns selling much more wine than beer.

The bottles discovered at Spitalfields hold about a pint and a half of wine and would have been sealed with a cork, secured with wire and then coated with wax.

Samuel Pepys provides testimony to the quality of the tipple commenting in an early diary entry: "Went to the Hoope Tavern...and there we drank off two or three quarts of wine, which was very good."

The wine will feature in the museum's London Eats Out exhibition detailing the capital's consumption habits over the past 500 years.

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