Champagne from 1840s shipwreck tasted "cheesy, metallic and sweet"

Champagne from 1840s shipwreck tasted "cheesy, metallic and sweet"

Bottles of champagne salvaged from a 170-year-old shipwreck have been tested by scientists seeking clues about historic wine-making methods. Analysis show very high levels of sugar–higher than most modern dessert wine–and traces of arsenic.

Bottles of champagne salvaged from a 170-year-old shipwreck have been tested by scientists.

The new study, published in the journal PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America), reports "chemical and sensory analysis" of the historic liquid. It was led by Prof Philippe Jeandet, from the University of Reims in Champagne-Ardenne, France.

When Jeandet sampled what was probably the oldest champagne ever tasted, he was allowed just one droplet squirted from a microsyringe. Divers retrieved 168 bottles of the 170-year-old champagne from the bottom of the Baltic Sea in an unprecedented haul in 2010, but only 2 millilitres of the drink reached Jeandet's laboratory for analysis.

Flavours of tobacco and leather

"It was impossible to smell," Jeandet said, because of the tiny quantity. "But it was fabulous–just tasting 100 microlitres." Engravings on the underside of the corks helped to identify the bottles. He remembered flavours of tobacco and leather, he said. "The taste remained for two or three hours."

The small sample shows that the seabed preserved the champagne surprisingly well, and offers clues about nineteenth-century wine-making practices, said Jeandet.

The composition of 170-year-old champagne samples found in a shipwreck in the Baltic Sea constitutes a remarkable and unprecedented example of long-term combinatorial chemistry, which can occur in such sealed 750ml microlaboratories.

Excerpt from article abstract

Fact file

The bottles were discovered in a shipwreck off the Finnish Åland archipelago, and identified as early 19th-century by engravings on their corks. In 2011, two were auctioned off, and one was sold for €30,000 (then US$44,000), a record for champagne. The money went to fund scholarships in marine archaeology projects, said Björn Häggblom, a spokesman for the government of Åland. Eleven more bottles were sold in 2012; the others are stored in Åland and may be auctioned later. (Five beer bottles were also found in the wreck, and an analysis of the beer was published earlier this year).