Shipwrecked champagne good, but not ours: Veuve-Clicquot

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A two-century-old bottle of champagne found in a shipwreck at the bottom of the Baltic tastes great but is not from the house of Veuve-Clicquot, as first thought, the company said Friday.

Last month Swedish divers working off Finland found 30 bottles perfectly preserved at a depth of 55 metres (180 feet), perhaps part of a consignment sent by France's King Louis XVI to the Russian Imperial Court.

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

But, after inspecting and trying a sample of the perfectly preserved vintage, the firm said it was in fact from the now defunct Juglar house.

"For this wine, time has stood still," said 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.

"It seems to me that it must taste the same as it did when it was made."

The bottles were found in only slightly salty water, with low currents, a constant temperature of five degrees Celsius (41 Fahrenheit), under pressure from the sea and in total darkness as if in a cellar.

"It has an intense golden yellow hue with grey-brown reflections. The taste starts strongly with sugars, but progressively acidity takes over and a fresh sensation invades the palate," Demarville said.

"As it lies in the mouth, impressive smoky sensations dominate, marked by the same peat and tobacco notes that you sense in the nose."

He estimated that the wine dated from the first third of the 19th century, which 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.

The remaining bottles, which could number more than the 30 uncovered by the divers, will remain on the seabed for the time being. Their exact location is being kept secret.

Authorities on Aaland will decide who legally owns the contents of the wreck. The archipelago at the mouth of the Gulf of Bothnia belongs to Finland, though it enjoys autonomy from Helsinki and locals speak Swedish.

© 2010 AFP

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