Everyone knows that Champagne and oysters make a tasty pairing, but what about Champagne bottles chained to oyster beds? It’s not as crazy as it sounds—since 2007 winemakers in France, Italy, Spain, Greece, and now the United States have been experimenting with aging their wine underwater.
The reasons for storing wine underwater are numerous: The unlimited free space that underwater aging allows is an obvious boon, but the real benefits seem to come from the absence of light, a constant cool temperature, high pressure, and the gentle rocking motion of the waves. These last two benefits are particularly intriguing for sparkling wine producers, as the pressure is believed to keep the bubbles bubbly and the rocking seems to mix the lees (yeast particles) around in the wine, providing a more complex flavor and more even carbonization.
Winemakers are submerging individual bottles and whole barrels in salt water and fresh water alike, always keeping several samples of the same wine stored on land to compare the difference. So far, almost everyone has been pleased with the results of underwater aging; Winemakers talk of more complex, expressive wines whose tannins have matured faster than their sister wines that aged in the cellar.
The concept of aging wine underwater isn’t a new one, although this may be the first time in history that it has been attempted on purpose. Bottles of wine retrieved from shipwrecks often turn out to have been persevered almost perfectly. The most recent example was in 2010 when divers off the coast of Aaland, an archipelago of Finnish islands in the Baltic Sea, discovered 79 drinkable bottles of Champagne. Stored perfectly on their sides in the cool, dark ocean environment, these bottles of wine sold for over $10,000 each at an auction in 2010. One of the bottles, a Veuve Clicquot from between 1831-1841, sold for $30,000, the highest price ever paid for a single bottle of Champagne.
The jury is still out on underwater aging, and only time will tell if wetter is better!
To see a video of how storing wine underwater is accomplished, click here. If you’ve had the chance to try a wine aged underwater, tell us about it here.
Photo credit to Neville Wootton, "027 - Titus and Divers"