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200-year-old Veuve Clicquot discovered

Veuve Clicquot has confirmed that the champagne shipment of 168 bottles discovered on a wreck at the bottom of the Baltic sea (Åland Islands) last July includes Veuve Clicquot champagne.

Veuve Clicquot had taken a keen interest in the discovery when it was announced that a wreck containing presumably the oldest bottles of drinkable champagne had been found. A close analysis of the first bottle salvaged dated it to the first third of the 19th century, and the champagne contained inside that bottle was revealed as being exceptional in many ways; it was attributed beyond a doubt to Juglar, a now defunct Champagne house.

Involved in the discovery at an early stage, Veuve Clicquot continued to work with the authorities of Åland Islands, an independant archipelago situated between Sweden and Finland, where the discovery was made, assisting in a rescue operation to retrieve the treasure from the bottom of the cold sea.

On a routine re-corking operation that took place yesterday, François Hautekeur, a member of the Veuve Clicquot winemaking team, and Fabienne Moreau, Veuve Clicquot's house historian, were able to identify with absolute certainty the Veuve Clicquot branding on the inside of a cork, which still remains the only way to identify the champagne, as the bottles have no labels. Three bottles so far have been determined to be Veuve Clicquot, and there is a strong likelihood that more will be identified in the coming weeks.

The operation took place in presence of the internationally acclaimed champagne specialist Richard Juhlin, who was able to taste the wine contained in the bottles: "The Clicquot is a bit drier, more Riesling-like. Colour with hints of green that also is shown by the refined and elegant notes of lime peel and white flowers and linden blossom. Underneath the slightly spicy and toasty layer and a bouquet close to brie de Meaux. Incredible freshness and almost like a very old Rheingau Auslese".

François Hautekeur describes the drinkable aged Veuve Clicquot: " A toasted, zesty nose with hints of coffee, and a very agreeable taste with accents of flowers and lime-tree."

This development comes as no surprise to the bicentennal champagne House, as the Baltic route was often used by Madame Clicquot for her shipments to the imperial court of Russia, which made the early commercial successes of the young widow and prompted the pioneering development of the House founded in 1772.

Corked and re-corked
Specialist consultants to the Åland Government called on the world’s leading cork producer, Amorim, to assist in the preservation of the champagne. Two bottles were opened at a special event in Mariehamn, the capital of Åland, on November 17.

Amorim’s technical champagne team advised on the complex process of replacing the 200-year-old cork stoppers with new ones.

The team then developed a new stopper made from a single piece of natural cork to the exact specifications of the antique bottles. During this process Amorim’s technical team worked with experts from French champagne house Veuve Clicquot and Åland authorities.

The company also provided special manual bottling machines that allowed the recovery team to insert the new corks at a location as close as possible to the shipwreck site. This was considered an important step in terms of minimising the impact the recovery would have on the quality of the champagne.

A small number of bottles have been recorked, while the majority are still immersed under water in a secret and secure location.

“Amorim was honoured when asked to play an important role in the recovery and preservation of this unique champagne,” said the head of Amorim’s technical champagne team, Ernesto Sa Pereira. “Great consideration and care was put into the development of the natural cork stoppers that are now sealing and preserving some of this liquid history.”

Divers discovered the champagne in July at a depth of about 50 metres in the southern part of Åland's outer archipelago. The ship, a two-masted schooner, is believed to have sunk in the early 1800s.

Initially, the divers took one bottle from the shipwreck and were surprised when its contents were intact. Sommelier Ella Grüssner Cromwell-Morgan tasted the first bottle and said it had: “very ripe fruit, tones of golden raisins and a clear aroma of tobacco. And, despite the fact that it was so amazingly old, there was freshness to the wine. It wasn’t debilitated in any way; rather it had a clear acidity which reinforced the sweetness.”

The salvage operation, which began shortly afterwards, presented a significant technical challenge in terms of raising each bottle from the seabed without major pressure or temperature changes affecting the contents or the seal.

Pereira said the tasting notes from the champagne experts were a tribute to natural cork as a closure.

“The fact that the precious liquid in these bottles has been preserved at the bottom of the sea for 200 years stands as testimony to the unique ability of natural cork to protect the champagnes and wines of this world,” he said.

The Åland Government has announced plans to auction some of the bottles and the prices achieved could be some of the highest ever recorded for single bottles of champagne.






1 November 2010 - Felicity Murray