If it is true that wine only gets better with age, then some of the very best wine in the world is hiding beneath the Hôpital civil in Strasbourg. In a 600-year-old wine cellar under the hospital is a barrel marked 1472, believed to be the oldest wine barrel in the world.
The wine cellar was built in 1395, when the French hospital was moved outside of the city gate. Patients frequently paid for their treatment at the hospital by donating land to it, which was sometimes used for vineyards. Wine was often used for medical and religious purposes at that time, so having a wine cellar as part of a hospital was common, though not many remain today.
Being underground and made largely of brick, the wine cellar was left intact after a fire destroyed the hospital in 1716. By 1725, the hospital had been rebuilt, and throughout the 1700s, patients at the hospital were given two litres of wine per day.
The cellar walls are lined with giant, decoratively carved wooden barrels, mostly dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries. One of them, though, is marked 1472. Kept behind a gate with a few other particularly old barrels of wine, it contains 450 litres of the oldest barrel-stored wine in the world, which has only been tasted three times in its history: 1576, in honor of a delegation from Switzerland; 1716, after the hospital burned down; and 1944, when Strasbourg was liberated by General Leclerc during World War II.
Select Alsatian wine-makers are given permission to mature their wines in the legendary cellars. About 150,000 bottles of wine are produced by the cellar each year, and are considered among the best in the world. Profits from the sale of this wine go toward the purchase of medical equipment.
Renovated in 1994, the cellar also now houses a wine museum, which includes the wine from 1472 and a wine press from the early 1600s. Wines produced in the cellar can be purchased in the cellar’s shop.
Know Before You Go
This place is a bit hard to find. It is located in the heart of the Hospital campus in Strasbourg. Walk down an unassuming flight of stairs tucked on the side of an administrative building to a double door and entry way. Inside is a cavernous room full of barrels of aging wine including a white from 1472. You can purchase wine at a very reasonable price. It's a bit of a walk from the city center but to experience this hidden treasure is totally worth it!
Ask someone to point you in the right direction. There is a lack of signage for this place.