Archaeologists have discovered what they believe to be the world's oldest wine cellar, dating back over 3,700 years.

It was found in Israel in the ruins of a northern Canaanite city that is thought to have been destroyed by a natural disaster.

The cellar measured 15ft by 25ft and could have held the equivalent of 3,000 bottles of wine.

An international team of archaeologists made the discovery at the 75-acre Tel Kabri site.

During a dig, they found a 3ft jug they nicknamed Bessie. "We dug and dug, and all of a sudden, Bessie's friends started appearing - five, 10, 15, ultimately 40 jars packed in a 15x25ft storage room," said Eric Cline from the George Washington University.

The total capacity of the jars was 2,000 litres. "This is a hugely significant discovery - it's a wine cellar that, to our knowledge, is largely unmatched in its age and size," Cline said.

Wine cellar
The wine cellar held the equivalent of 3,000 bottles of wine (Eric Cline)

Assaf Yasur-Landau, of the University of Haifa, said: "The wine cellar was located near a hall where banquets took place, a place where the Kabri elite and possibly foreign guests consumed goat meat and wine.

"The wine cellar and the banquet hall were destroyed during the same violent event, perhaps an earthquake, which covered them with thick debris of mud bricks and plaster."

The researchers established that the jugs were for wine by analysing organic residue analysis from jar fragments. "This wasn't moonshine that someone was brewing in their basement," Andrew Koh, of Brandeis University, said.

"This wine's recipe was strictly followed in each and every jar."

Next year the archaeologists are planning through two doors leading out of the wine cellar, which are believed to lead to additional storage rooms.

Researchers are analysing the composition of the wine, including honey, mint, cinnamon bark, juniper berries and resins, in a bid to recreate the flavour.