Champagne find at the bottom of the sea echoes around the world
Åland has claimed a spot on the world map of champagne. Two bottles of champagne, believed to be the world's oldest, have been opened and sampled before a large muster of wine experts and journalists from many different countries.
Wednesday November 17th was a memorable day in Mariehamn. The Åland Government had arranged a feast when it finally was time to publicly sample the unique liquid, discovered in the summer, which had been sitting in a shipwreck at the bottom of the sea for 180 years.
More than a hundred journalist were present from Germany, Great Britain and of course from France, among other places.
"I'm from a city in the champagne district and this is great news for us," said Ophelié Masure from French television.
Also some leading news agencies were present and made sure the news was broadcast around the world. There were also several champagne experts and representatives from the French champagne houses Veuve Clicquot and Jacquesson.
Richard Juhlin from Sweden, one of the world's leading champagne experts who has sampled more than 7.000 kinds of champagne, had the great honour of sampling the shipwreck-champagne onstage. There were two varieties in the wreck, one from Veuve Clicquot and one from the now defunct Juglar house.
"Wonderful, fantastic", Richard Juhlin exclaimed and then started to line up all the tastes he found in the two glasses - for example cheese, chanterelle, orange, honey and peach.
The wine experts agreed on one thing: It is unbelievable that such an old spirit is still so colourful, aromatic, vital and fresh. Those expecting champagne bubbles will be disappointed as the bubbles have vanished with time. The drink is also very sweet. "It was made very sweet at that time as they used a lot more sugar than today. The sugar also had a preservative effect," explains sommelier Ella Grüssner Cromwell-Morgan.
"Like a young girl in high-heels"
Bengt Frithiofsson, a wine connoisseur from Sweden, mentions the almost religious feelings he experienced when he sampled the old drinks. According to him, the Juglar champagne could be compared with "a young girl in high-heels walking on my taste buds" while the Veuve Clicquot drink walked about in lumberjack boots.
"You drink history. Just think about what the world looked like when this liquor was made", the reporter Svante Lidén from the Swedish evening journal Aftonbladet, said.
The exact number of bottles that were found aboard the shipwreck has been a well kept secret until last Wednesday. Then the number was revealed - 168. The majority of them are well preserved and the idea is that some of them will be sold at an international wine auction which will be recurrent on Åland. Another idea is to blend some of the shipwreck champagne with newly made champagne and sell the special blend.
Five of the bottles will be kept as museum pieces. Aboard the wreck were also some smaller bottles that turned out to contain beer. The beer will now be analyzed and hopefully there will be a way to recreate the shipwreck-beer so that it can be brewed and sold.
- In the summer 2010 a Swedish-Ålandish diving team found a shipwreck from the 1800's at a depth of 40-50 meters, south of the island Föglö in the Åland archipelago.
- It is not unusual that previously unknown shipwrecks are found in parts of the Åland archipelago that are difficult to navigate, but this shipwreck carried an exclusive cargo - a large amount of undamaged champagne bottles.
- The ship was a two-masted galeas of a Nordic type, about 21 meters long and 6.5 meters wide. The wooden hull is still intact, but very soft and fragile and the masts are still standing upright. The ship's name is still unclear and it may remain a mystery. It is believed to have departed from northern Germany some time between 1825 and 1850 on its way to the Finnish west coast with its exclusive cargo.
Tasting of champagne Bengt Frithiofsson
Photo: Ålands landskapsregering / Daniel Eriksson