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What Does 170-Year-Old Champagne Taste Like?

Margaret Lipman
By
Published May 20, 2024
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Although most sparkling wines are designed to be enjoyed right off the shelf, top-quality vintage champagne can develop and age well for decades when stored correctly. But what about champagne submerged in the Baltic Sea for 170 years?

That was the question everyone wanted answered following the discovery of a shipwreck of a trade schooner off the coast of Finland in 2010. Divers located 168 bottles of French champagne that had remained undisturbed in the wreckage, approximately 160 feet (49 m) below the surface. Remarkably, although the labels had long since disappeared, researchers were able to identify the vintners from the markings on the corks, including the well-known champagne house Veuve Clicquot.

Food biochemistry professor Philippe Jeandet of the University of Reims led a team of scientists who analyzed the contents of the bottles, gleaning an impressive amount of information from their beverage samples. The biggest differences between the champagne discovered in the shipwreck and modern Veuve Clicquot were the lower alcohol and higher sugar content of the so-called “Baltic wine.”

Adding sugar at the end of production was common among 19th-century winemakers, especially for wines intended for certain markets. The Baltic wine had around 140 grams of sugar per liter, indicating that the shipment might have been destined for Germany, known for its enjoyment of moderately sweetened (by 19th-century standards) champagne. The bubbly enjoyed in Russia was far sweeter, at around 300 grams per liter, while the American and British customers of the era preferred lower sugar levels, at around 20 to 60 grams per liter. Modern champagne is much less sweet and typically does not exceed 10 grams of sugar per liter.

The lower alcohol content may have been caused by multiple factors, including the colder climate, less efficient yeast usage, and dilution of the final product with sugar syrup. The scientists also detected higher levels of certain minerals, namely copper, iron, sodium, and chlorine, compared to modern Veuve Clicquot, due to various aspects of the growing and manufacturing processes.

Getting better with age?

  • The bottles’ underwater resting place provided a surprisingly suitable environment for storage, thanks to cool temperatures (roughly 35 to 39 degrees Fahrenheit) and minimal light. As only small amounts of acetic acid were detected in the champagne, the scientists concluded it had not spoiled and was still drinkable. Sadly, the beer being transported on the vessel didn’t fare as well; it was contaminated with sea salt.

  • Wine experts who tried the champagne were initially unimpressed by the taste, describing it as having “animal notes” and a “cheesy” flavor. The taste was likely not improved by lactic acid from fermentation and the disappointing lack of bubbles. However, allowing the wine to breathe by swirling it in a glass and increasing oxygen exposure greatly improved the taste, and it was then described as “spicy” and “smoky,” with fruity and floral notes.

  • Some of the champagne from the shipwreck was auctioned off to private buyers, who paid up to $160,000 per bottle. The discovery has inspired some winemakers to consider deep-sea aging as a potentially viable approach.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Margaret Lipman
By Margaret Lipman
With years of experience as an educator, Margaret Lipman produces thoughtful and informative content across a wide range of topics. Her articles cover essential areas such as finance, parenting, health and wellness, nutrition, educational strategies. Margaret's writing is guided by her passion for enriching the lives of her readers through practical advice and well-researched information.
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Margaret Lipman
Margaret Lipman
With years of experience as an educator, Margaret Lipman produces thoughtful and informative content across a wide range...
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