Uncorked: Wines from a 200-year-old shipwreck

By Pat Kettles - Anniston Star

First we had fake wines allegedly belonging to Thomas Jefferson. The bottles were even engraved with his initials. Although, upon examination by experts, the engraving was determined to be the product of a modern-day dentist’s drill.

More recently, Indonesian national Rudy Kurniawan was indicted by a federal grand jury in New York on four counts of mail and wire fraud for selling counterfeit wines. The FBI raided Kurniawan’s Los Angeles home and found a complete lab for producing fraudulent wines.

In both cases, questionable wines were vetted by top auction houses and connoisseurs. Wine professionals waxed ecstatic over these old wines, and rich collectors paid out the wazoo for them.

In their defense, the New York indictment describes Kurniawan as “a wizard at concocting fake wines by mixing and matching younger, less valuable wines that mimicked the taste, color and character of rare and expensive wines.

Given these scenarios, I cautiously relate the following tale. In July 2010, news outlets reported a rare find by seven Swedish divers, who discovered a cache of 30 ancient bottles off the Finnish Aland Islands at a shipwreck site 200 feet down on the ocean floor.

A dive instructor brought up a single bottle, hoping to determine the age of the wreck. Upon opening, the bottle contained sweet champagne tasting of oak and tobacco.

The wine was thought to be from the Champagne house of Veuve Clicquot, founded in 1772. Divers believed this cache might have been destined for Imperial Russia, sent by King Louis XVI of France.

The oldest known bottle of champagne still in existence is a bottle of Perrier-Jouët from 1825.

These found bottles could have dated from the 1780s. A wine still drinkable at this age is remarkably rare. Its drinkability was attributed to ideal preservation conditions on the dark, cold floor of the Baltic Sea.

The first bottle, believed to be Veuve Clicquot, was auctioned by New York auction house Acker, Merrall and Condit last June. It was snapped up by an anonymous bidder in Singapore who paid around $40,000.

The same bidder paid around $30,000 for an earlier offering of a single bottle of Juglar, a now defunct champagne house. The cache at the time of the auction was said to be 148 bottles.

wine Sweden Finland champagne Baltic sea

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