Tsar Nicholas II
- On 21/10/2012
- In Underwater Archeology
From The Age
In 1916, 3000 bottles of Heidsieck Monopole 1907 were sent from France via Sweden across the Baltic Sea to Finland destined for St Petersburg and the officers of the Imperial Army of Tsar Nicholas II. They never arrived.
Later that year, off the coast of Finland, the ketch Jonkoping and its valuable cargo stumbled across a German U-boat and was sunk.
There the ketch and the champagne lay, 64 metres under water, for 82 years.
When finally recovered from the sea in 1998, much of the champagne was found surprisingly fully intact. Not only that, when bottles were opened at Crown's Number 8 restaurant in 2007 the wine was still very much alive: strong in bubble, a heady perfume of wild honey, nougat, blanched almonds and a magnificence of flavour.
Young Yarra Valley winemaker Ben Portet's eyes widen when I tell him I tasted the-then 100-year-old Heidsieck Monopole. Was it truly amazing, he asks ? ''Definitely.''
Not many wines have survived watery graves quite so well as the famous batch of 1907 Heidsieck Monopole, but there are enough tales of resurrection to raise legitimate questions about how wine ages under water, or so Portet believes.
He has persuaded scientists from the Australian Wine Research Institute to get on board his flight of fancy.
In 2011, Portet aged two barriques of Pyrenees shiraz under water in an old plastic apple bin, leaving it outside in the open air for about 14 months at his family's winery, Dominique Portet Wines at Coldstream.
The bin was filled with rainwater, not seawater, and Portet used aged barriques (225 litres), not new.