How Did the Oldest Drinkable Bottle of Wine End Up in the Bahamas?

Legend has it: Deep inside the dungeon of a pirate captain’s 18th century mansion in Nassau, Bahamas, there is a bottle of what is rumored to be the oldest drinkable bottle of wine in the entire world.

Sounds like a fun story, doesn’t it?

Entrance to Graycliff’s wine cellar, from Mandatory.com

And actually, it’s not a story. Or a legend. It’s not the stuff of historical fiction; and it’s not a compelling side narrative to a swashbuckling Pirates of the Caribbean sequel, either. The story is real–and there’s a real bottle of wine, collecting dust, waiting for someone to purchase it for the oh-so-affordable price of $200,000 dollars, in a dungeon, in what is now a very expensive hotel called The Graycliff, in the city of Nassau in the Bahamas.

Finding out about legends like this is one of the very best parts of traveling. When I heard that I’d have the chance to visit something that could still be drinkable after hundreds of years of lying on its side (and in a tropical paradise, nonetheless), my mind couldn’t help but start racing. Where did the wine come from? How did it end up in a dungeon? How do people know it’s still drinkable? Can I see it? Can I hold it? And more importantly, why did the storyline transfix me so completely?

A couple of reasons, I think: First of all, who doesn’t love a good pirate story? And who doesn’t love wine? Together, what could possibly make a better story?

I started my research. Recently, Gastro Obscura highlighted the actual oldest bottle of wine in the world, which is, apparently, 1,693 years old (and–important word here–it won’t taste good but is, as writer Anne Ewbank claims, “probably” still drinkable). The bottle in the Bahamas, a $200,000 bottle of drinkable wine, is actually something you could, theoretically, uncork and have with your pork chops for dinner. Besides, pictures of the ancient Roman wine are gross: the bottle is filled with murky, floating masses that look like intestines, which are likely the remnants of what was, once, fermented grapes and local herbs. There is no way I’d want to even consider imbibing that stuff. It was buried with an important Roman man (who else, right?), so even the story of how the bottle got unearthed is a much simpler tale. We excavated the man; we got the wine.

But here, in Nassau, deep in the heart of the historic district, is a 1727 riesling from an important wine region in Germany. According to Graycliff’s website, their renowned wine cellar features over 250,000 bottles of wine from more than 5,000 wineries in no less than 20 countries. Their selection ranges from some of today’s most popular vintages to some of the world’s rarest, including a Château Lafite from the mid-1800s and, of course, the infamous 1727 Rudesheimer Apostelwein from the lush Rheinghau region of Germany. That’s about all their website says, though, so I figured there had to be more to the story.

I couldn’t wait to see it.

From Mandatory.com’s Graycliff slideshow

Additional digging provided a few of the answers I was looking for–and the real story, it turns out, isn’t quite as fascinating as the idea that a pirate stole the prized bottle from a German vintner in a swashbuckling fight to the death. As an article on Fortune.com purports, Enrico Garzaroli, owner of the Graycliff property, bought the famed dessert wine at a Christie’s auction in London. Today, the item is listed on page 70 of the wine menu with a small disclaimer: there’s no refund if it’s gone to vinegar. You know, the whole “buyer’s beware” kind of thing. So it sits.

Of course, when we travel, the stuff of legends doesn’t always turn out to be as intriguing as we think, and we don’t always get to see everything we want to see. That’s part of the traveler’s life. I never did get to see that bottle of wine in person.

As it turns out, I’d been a little overzealous trying to pack in a trip to Graycliff during the one day we spent in Nassau. We drove past the hotel during our city scavenger hunt, which satisfied a little of the wanderlust I have for strange and unusual objects, but we never did manage to get inside. Truth be told, though, I don’t even know if we would have been able to see the wine if we went inside, anyway, because I haven’t been able to confirm it online and I emailed the hotel but didn’t hear back.

In any case, there is still something undeniably legendary about visiting Nassau, whether you’re going to feast your eyes on a really old (and possibly edible) bottle of wine or you’re going to simply put your feet in the perfectly blue waters. The island is still haunted by stories of pirates, of treasures still buried, of mysterious bottles of dessert wine collecting dust in dungeons. Who really cares what was surreptitiously hidden in a dungeon, and what was bought at auction?

A special thanks to Carnival Cruise Lines for sponsoring my trip to the Bahamas and for introducing me to the beautiful and intriguing city of Nassau.

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