Oldest champagne wreck keeps giving

Divers began last week to salvage dozens of bottles of 200-year-old champagne found in July 160 feet under the Baltic Sea in a shipwreck south of the autonomous Aaland Islands. There appear to be 70 bottles of champagne in the wreck (early stories counted only 30) but the date is still up in the air.

200-year-old champagne in Baltic shipwreckThe anchor logo visible on the intact corks suggested that the champage cargo was from an early run of Veuve-Clicquot, possibly sent by ship from King Louis XVI to the Russian imperial court of Catherine the Great. Those initial reports are still possible, but experts from Veuve-Clicquot now think that the champagne came from another high-end brand, long since defunct. That expands the potential date range to the early 1800s.

Because the corks still retained a trace of an anchor logo, experts at first thought the champagne might have come from the historic Veuve-Clicquot estate, still one of the world’s top brands of bubbly.

After inspecting and trying a sample of the perfectly preserved vintage, the firm however said at the beginning of August it was in fact from the now defunct Juglar house.[…]

Veuve-Clicquot’s chief cellarman Dominique Demarville, one of a tiny number of people who has been allowed to taste a few millilitres of the find, estimated that the wine dated from the first third of the 19th century.

This means it is not clear whether it is the oldest champagne ever drunk, as an 1825 Perrier-Jouet was tasted by experts in London last year.

You can see video footage of the divers recovering the champagne bottles from the wreck in this BBC story. Once all the champagne is salvaged, experts will be able to make more precise assessments. They’ll have plenty of time to examine the haul since Aaland authorities haven’t yet decided what they’ll do with the champagne.

Meanwhile, divers found another potential oldest drinkable beverage from another part of the same shipwreck. This time it’s 200-year-old beer still sealed in its bottles. One of the bottles exploded from the pressure when they brought it to the surface and they saw a dark liquid seeping out, so they knew it wasn’t champagne.

200-year-old beer in Baltic shipwreck“At the moment, we believe that these are by far the world’s oldest bottles of beer,” Rainer Juslin, permanent secretary of the island’s ministry of education, science and culture, told CNN on Friday via telephone from Mariehamn, the capital of the Aland Islands.

“It seems that we have not only salvaged the oldest champagne in the world, but also the oldest still drinkable beer. The culture in the beer is still living.”

Juslin said officials had talked to a local brewer about whether the new-found beer might be able to yield its recipe after experts decipher the brew’s ingredients.

The cold (water remains a constant 4-5 degrees Celsius, 39-41 degrees Fahrenheit) and dark conditions of the Baltic make it an outstanding long-term cooler. The beer was still foaming when it leaked from the broken bottle, and some of the crew couldn’t resist taking a wee drappie.

The previous record-holder for oldest beer dates from 1869, so even if the shipwreck does turn out to be from the third decade of the 19th century, the beer will retain a world record that the champagne might have to give up.