Bottles of wine found in shepwrecks often sell for a good fortune, and now it has been found that it is the sea that holds the secret to truly great vintages.
A trio of French wine lovers – a vineyard manager, a barrel maker and an oyster farmer – teamed up to test the myth, above and below water.
Barrels of a 2009 Bordeaux wine were stored in two locations – one was kept in chateau cellars, the other sunk among the prized oyster beds of the Bay of Arcachon, on the Atlantic coast.
They were tested after six months and found that the one stored below the sea indeed taste better.
Lab analysis also showed extraordinary results – showing the special combination of being submerged had changed the water-bound one by osmosis.
Bruno Lemoine, who runs the cellars of Chateau Larrivet Haut-Brion in the southwest Bordeaux region unveiled their findings this week in Paris, the Daily mail reported.
To test the sea effect on wine, Lemoine first asked his barrel-maker friend Pierre-Guillaume Chiberry to build him two small 56-litre wooden barrels in which to age his red wine by an extra six months.
Chiberry set his three top craftsmen to work on the barrels, assembling them simultaneously by hand to ensure they were strictly identical for the purpose of the experiment.
They cycled 93 miles to Lemoine’s vineyard in June 2011 with the barrels in tow to see them poured full of the 2009 vintage, already aged nearly two years by this point.
The barrel kept at the chateau was dubbed ‘Tellus’ after the Roman goddess of the land, and the other ‘Neptune’ after the sea god.
Neptune was picked up by Lemoine’s oyster farmer friend Joel Dupuch and rowed out to the low tide mark, where it was chained inside a concrete chamber that kept it protected while letting the water flow in and out.
Both barrels were retrieved in January for the wine to be bottled, tasted and analysed in a laboratory.
Tellus turned out to be rather disappointing. But Neptune was a good surprise all round.
“When we tasted it, it was much better than it should have been,” the expert taster Bernard Burtschy told the Paris gathering.
Despite the barrel’s watertight stainless steel plug, lab tests confirmed that the wine was subtly changed by its ocean environment through a process of osmosis.
On the one hand the wine lost some of its alcohol content, while on the other it saw its sodium concentration rise, adding a subtly salty note that brings out the best of the tannins, Burtschy said.