Can something new be discovered in the world of champagne? It would seem that such a classic as champagne cannot even be innovated. However, deep at the bottom of the Baltic, the secret of how to make champagne even better has been waiting for many years.
Underwater ripening was discovered by complete accident. In 2010, a group of divers in the Baltic Sea between Finland and Sweden, near the Aland Islands, found the wreck of the Föglö ship sunk in 1852, writes the British newspaper The Guardian. Inside was a surprise in the form of 145 bottles of champagne, still unsealed and full of extremely delicious wine. Several bottles of light beer were also found on the ship.
Although years under water had completely washed away the labels from the bottles, experts were able to recognize the branded engravings from the surface of the corks and thus determine the origin of the bottles. Many of them came from the Juglar maison winery, which disappeared in 1829 when its vineyards were taken over by a competitor. Another 47 bottles came from one of the most famous champagne producers, the famous Veuve Clicquot.
Two years after the discovery, 11 bottles were auctioned for a total of 156 thousand dollars (about 3.5 million crowns) at an auction in Mariehamn on the Åland Islands. However, that was before champagne was tasted and analyzed by experts. Today, the value of the bottles is around 190 thousand dollars (4.2 million crowns).
The taste of wet hair and cheese
Small samples from the three bottles found were sent to a professor of food biochemistry at the University of Reims, which is in the heart of the Champagne region. Professor Philipp Jeandet conducted an extensive analysis of the wine and wrote a report on his findings, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“While these champagne bottles may not be the oldest surviving to this day, they most likely contain the oldest champagne ever tasted,” Jeandet writes in the report. He adds that “after 170 years of deep-sea aging in near-perfect conditions, these dormant bottles of champagne have awakened to tell us a chapter in the story of winemaking.”
In his article, the professor also ponders where so many bottles of champagne were headed. According to him, according to the location of the discovery, it is possible that the ship sailed to Russia. From the correspondence between Madame Clicquot and her representative in St. Petersburg, however, it appears that the Russians at that time preferred sweet wine, and the champagne found was definitely not sweet. So maybe it was heading to Germany.
According to Jeandet, the wine immediately after opening had animalic notes, the taste of wet hair and also something of a cheesy taste. In his article, the professor explains these tastes through various biochemical processes. After the wine was allowed to age and oxygenate in the glass, it released more pleasant aromas that were described as spicy, smoky, grilled or leathery with fruity and floral notes.
“Expert tasters noted that while no bubbles were observed when pouring, there was a slight tingle when tasting,” Jeandet describes the wine.
“I have never tasted such wine in my life. The smell stayed in my mouth for three or four hours after tasting it,” Smithsonian Magazine quotes the professor as saying, according to which Jeandet was only able to taste a tiny sample of 100 microliters.
According to the Guardian, Dominique Demarville, then head of Veuve Clicquot, tasted the champagne three times and discovered notes of ripe fruit, truffles and honey in the taste. He subsequently declared it one of the best champagnes in the world.
Mimicking the process
Veuve Clicquot was so fascinated by the rediscovery of its wine that it is attempting to recreate the same conditions by sinking dozens of bottles in the same spot where the originals were found. He plans to leave some bottles there for up to 40 years.
They believe the deep sea could be the ideal environment in which champagne rests, the Guardian reports. Traditionally, the bottles are left to rest in old chalk cellars under Reims. “Thanks to its low salinity and constant temperature of 4°C, the Baltic Sea offers an optimal environment for ripening,” the Guardian quotes the famous producer.
The house of Veuve Cliquet is not the only one experimenting with underwater champagne. Lucy Edwards, champagne expert and founder of industry magazine Champagne Everyday, told The Guardian that subsea storage is developing rapidly and is being trialled by most major producers and even some smaller ones. But not all bottles sink into the depths of the Baltic, where the original ones were found. According to Edwards, most of the bottles don’t travel far from home and are deposited off the coast of Brittany.
The market adapts quickly
Demand grew so quickly that the French company Amphoris, which deals with underwater wine storage, was soon founded.
“Our job is to provide a reliable and safe service for submerging bottles in locations that have been carefully selected for their unique characteristics, offering the best conditions for operating the perfect underwater cellar: total darkness, constant temperature, total safety,” he says on his website. company with the fact that the bottles travel to depths greater than 60 meters, which prevents possible theft.
According to the company, the selected locations have specific parameters of the seabed, moderate waves and sea currents also do not interfere.