Could the sea hold the secret to enhancing the longevity and “depth” of great wines? To find out a trio of French wine lovers / myth-busters — a vineyard manager, a barrel maker and an oyster farmer — teamed up to test the myth, above and below the sea.
Bruno Lemoine, the managing director and wine-maker of Château Larrivet Haut-Brion (Bordeaux), explains: “I had heard many stories about wines ageing at sea”, referring for instance to unsold Bandol or Bordeaux wines which were brought back from India to France in the 18th century by Louis-Gaspard d’Estournel: these wines regularly returned considerably improved. So with some friends, Bruno Lemoine decided to test ageing wine under the sea with his 2009 vintage.
© AFP Underwater wine ageing had already been tested in 2007 at Saint Malo.
Haut Brion 2009, aged at the bottom of the sea near Arcachon
Bruno Lemoine commissioned a friend from a barrel-making company to make two similar barrels of 56 litres to extend the traditional barrel-ageing done at the estate by 6 months. One barrel was then kept as usual in the winery while the other one was put in an oyster bed near Arcachon in the South West of France.
The “sea” barrel was chained and embedded into a concrete enclosure.
Château Larrivet Haut-Brion/AFP
After 6 months the wine kept at sea had considerably improved
The wines were bottled in January 2012, and analysed by the renowned “flying winemaker” Michel Rolland with the help of his laboratory, and tasted by a group of experts.
“When we tasted the wine, it was much better than it should have been”, with more softness and complexity for the sea-aged wine than the estate-aged wine, claims Bernard Burtschy a French wine expert.
Analysis confirmed there had been exchanges by osmosis between the wine and the sea, despite the water-proof concrete surrounding it.
In 6 months, the wine lost a bit of alcohol and the levels of sodium increased. “Romans used to add salty water to their wine“, explains Mr Burtschy, “and we know salt increases flavour“.
“We tasted it today, but we now need to see how the wine evolves in the future” says Mr Lemoine, who wants to continue to track the wine’s evolution over a 10-year period.
How did the sea-ageing improve the wine?
We have always known that there is an interaction between wine and air. Whether the wine is still in the barrel, under cork or under screwcap, a minute amount of oxygen comes into contact with the wine and makes it evolve.
During this underwater experiment, it is the sea swell which naturally produced the interaction of the wine with its environment, and it brought salt into contact with the wine, instead of oxygen. Apparently the resulting softer mouthfeel and intense flavors came from the additional salt in the wine.
Scientific experiments in Spain
Bajo el Agua Factory, a Basque company specialized in underwater exploration has created the first underwater wine ageing laboratory in the world, with controlled sensors, cameras and security seals to analyse the wines more scientifically.
The company regularly invites regional Spanish wines to try ageing some of their wines underwater and collects data in real time.
It expects to one day find the optimal conditions for underwater ageing and hopes to replicate the discovery!
Vintec Australia is considering offering underwater wine storage in the Sydney Harbour soon… interested?
By: The Vintec Club
***Grabbed from: https://www.vintecclub.com/is-the-secret-to-ageing-wine-at-the-bottom-of-the-ocean/