Wednesday, the 17th of November will always be a day to remember for champagne lovers around the world. It was the day when the nearly 180-year-old shipwrecked bottles were opened and the worth of the Baltic Sea’s champagne treasure was assessed.
RICHARD ON THE SHIPVRECKED CHAMPAGNES Some think that I live a life of luxury and am a bit spoiled. As I tasted an estimated six million euros worth of shipwrecked champagne in just three days, it is perhaps a bit hard to argue with – but I will still give it a try.
The re-corking of champagne is hardly something I advocate, yet I was appointed as a consultant to the Åland government behind the decision to re-cork all bottles that were found aboard the wreck at Åland. After observing leakage of far too many bottles and as the origin could only be traced through the bottom of the cap, we had no choice.
I was flown to Mariehamn, alongside an archaeologist and a technical team from Veuve Clicquot, for three days to re-cork and taste all the 145 recovered bottles. Since it was impossible to let the bottles remain at the bottom of the sea until the occasion for drinking them arises, the bottles that had been stored in individual water baths in the ”nursery” displayed great bottle variation and a lower carbon dioxide content than they had done at the bottom of the sea. Some bottles that appeared perfect had unfortunately allowed seawater to leak in and were undrinkable. The bottles that were in good condition are a fantastic experience for all the senses to encounter.
The exercise was fascinating and I am quite pleased with the results of the grading of each and every individual bottle. More than sixty bottles ended up in the first category of ‘tradable good’ to ‘outstanding’ wines. About one-third of the bottles were graded in the middle tier. These wines are likely to be used as reserve or dosage wine in exciting cuvées the champagne houses are planning. The last third was undrinkable, often with a touch of seawater having entered the bottle. A few bottles were so terrible that we had to evacuate the tasting room after opening them.
After recovering from the shock of these odours I took a short walk for a bit of fresh air and went back to the bottles again. Our mind works, unfortunately, in a way that we remember the unpleasant smells all too well. Therefore, I could not enjoy many of the fine bottles that I placed in the highest category either.
When I crawled into bed after officiating a hard day’s work, I remembered all too well the stench of manure, swamp and rotten eggs. Luckily, we managed to round off the evening with a few glasses of great red wines. It is not always easy being a Champagne expert!
1839 VEUVE CLICQUOT ‘MILLÉSIME’ | Reims | Champagne | France | 33PN 33PM 34CH | TASTING NOTE ‘One of three much spoken-of champagnes found onboard the unknown wreck in the southern section of the Åland archipelago in the summer of 2010. Since it is impossible to let the bottles remain lying on the bottom until the occasion for drinking them, the bottles that have been stored in individual water baths in the ”nursery” display great bottle variation and a lower carbon dioxide content than they had down at the bottom of the sea. Some bottles that appear perfect have unfortunately allowed seawater to leak in and so they are undrinkable. The bottles that are in good condition are a fantastic experience for all the senses to encounter. Apart from the characteristic aroma of farmyard, mature Brie de Meaux cheese and mushroom forests that immediately strikes one, there is an exciting tone of leather, honey and crème brûlée. In the faintly tingling and extremely sweet basic flavour there is a very unexpected, greenly youthful taste spectrum in which lime and linden blossom are the leading notes. The entire wine is swept about by an enormous mystique and its intensity is almost numbing. As an experience, my assessment marks are miserly, but from an objective perspective of quality, completely fair.’ RJpoints 89(89) in Nov’10
1830 JUGLAR ‘MILLÉSIME’ | Dizy | Champagne | France | 33PN 33PM 34CH | TASTING NOTE ‘The first of the two champagnes to be salvaged from the Åland wreck in the summer of 2010. A firm that is nowadays extinct but that was in those days a second trademark at Jacquesson’s. Just as is the case with the bottles from Clicquot, I am waiting for the perfect item with lavish mousse. The six bottles I have tasted so far share the same Brie de Meaux nose with Clicquot and are actually even a touch sweeter. I want to describe Juglar as somewhat more robust and more rustic, and where the other champagne tends towards white blooms and lime, Juglar tends to breathe peach, mandarine and orange liqueuer. This thing is also a joy for all your senses and considering that it is perhaps the oldest champagne in the world, its friendly drinkableness and vivacity are a gift to humanity.’ RJpoints 89(89) in Nov’10