Under the Sea: 200-Year-Old Champagne

In July of 2010, bottles of château-aged, ultra-premium Champagne—lost for more than 170 years—were discovered by marine archaeologists inside a shipwreck in the Baltic Sea. The site of the wreckage was in waters belonging to the Aland Islands, a Finnish archipelago located between Sweden and Finland. The vessel was a twin-masted schooner, believed to have been carrying cargo from King Louis XVI of France to the Court of Catherine the Great in St. Petersburg. The anonymous ship sank sometime in the early to mid 19th century.

Scandinavian divers recovered 168 bottles of Champagne from the early 1800s. Most of the specimens were intact. Of the 145 unbroken, uncontaminated bottles, 94 were from the long-defunct Juglar house (part of Jacquesson now); 46 were from the still-thriving Veuve Clicquot estate; and 4 were from Heidsieck (today, Vranken-Pommery Monopole). The Champagnes were nestled in straw and left on their sides at a depth of 165 feet. They lay in complete darkness, at a constant temperature of around 41 degrees Fahrenheit. The seawater of the region is only slightly salty, and there is little ocean current to jostle the bottles. These conditions provided a nearly perfect environment for Champagne storage.

Most of the Champagne from the shipwreck is well over 200 years old, yet all bottles tasted so far have been fresh, albeit with some loss of effervescence. According to Aland sommelier Ella Grussner Cromwell-Morgan, who was asked to evaluate one of the Juglars soon after it was brought to the surface: “[It had] very ripe fruit, with tones of golden raisins and a clear aroma of tobacco…Despite the fact that it was so amazingly old, there was a freshness to the wine. It wasn’t debilitated in any way.”

Some of the bottles have already been auctioned off. Not only are these the oldest still-drinkable Champagnes in existence, they are the most valuable. The few bottles sold so far have fetched up to $40,500 (US) each. Who would have thought that an undersea, naturally pressurized wine cellar such as this one is ideal for preserving sparkling wine?