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This city of 130,000, nestled among vineyards along the river banks, is arguably the finest of Germany’s Baroque and Rococo towns. Its history dates from the 8th century, when Frankish dukes, converted to Christianity by Irish missionary monks, laid the foundations of massive Marienberg Fortress on the crest of the highest of Würzburg’s many terraced and vine-covered hills.
There is a story about a legendary wine known as the “millennium wine”, harvested in 1540, the time of Shakespeare, Emperor Charles V and Martin Luther.
The “Jahrtausendwein” is a “once-in-a-millennium” vintage wine, a very valuable Riesling wine from the Würzburger Stein vineyard, Würzburg, Germany of 1540. The year of 1540 is mostly known for its desastrous drought in Central Europe. The drought was an extreme climatic event with diverse effects on natural areas and human communities over elven months.
Due to the desastrious effects of the drought vintners believed their harvest to be lost as many other crops that year. The vineyards produced mostly shriveled and dried grapes that though produced an extraordinary and delicious wine. The heat created a millennium wine with an extremely high sugar content that was described as “so excellent” that it was preferred to foreign wines.
When the vintners in Würzburg harvested the so-called Kaiserwein in 1540 the quality of the Würzburger Stein wine was described as the best of the past millennium and is probably comparable to modern-day Trockenbeerenauslese. “It looks like gold in the glass,” described one chronicler the “Jahrtausendwein”.
When the Swedes occupied Würzburg in 1631, they searched in vain for the famous wine. The citizens of Würzburg though hid and buried the wine in the forest, and unfortunately forgot its location. It took another 52 years to recover the wine that was then stored in the famous “Schwedenfass“, the “Swedish barrel”.
Some bottles of the “Jahrtausendwein” of have survived to this day, for example one is behind glass in the treasury of the Würzburg Bürgerspital zum Heiligen Geist. In 1966 scientists and selected people opened one bottle and determined that the wine was still drinkable, and gave a glimpse of the famous “Jahrtausendwein”.
In 1996, the bottle was returned to Bürgerspital Weingut, and is thought to be the last surviving bottle of this vintage wine and the Guinness World Record stated that it was the oldest bottle of wine in 1976, 1977 and 1978.
Today, it is safely stored in the wine treasury under lock and key!