BUBBLY FROM THE BALCTIC A FINANCIAL BOON
Sitting for 15O years on the chilly ocean floor of the Baltic Sea is seemingly the perfect condition for storing Champagne. Experts have predicted that a batch of 168 bottles of vintage Champagne salvaged by divers last summer is likely to become the world’s most expensive, with some experts estimating each bottle could fetch more than €5O,OOO (US$68,OOO). In November, wine tasters had their first opportunity to sample the Champagne – thought to be among the oldest in existence – and immediately hailed it. Richard Juhlin, a Swedish Champagne expert, complimented the drink’s “very strong, intense bouquet” and reported tasting hints of chanterelle mushrooms and linden blossom. The planned sale would deliver a windfall to the Aland Islands, between Sweden and Finland, in whose waters the Champagne was found. The Aland government is hoping to maximize income from the Champagne by selling it gradually over many years, with the first bottle to be auctioned in 2O11. The previous record price for a bottle of Champagne appears to have been HK$164,56O (US$21,OOO) paid for a 1928 Krug auctioned in Hong Kong last year. Juhlin said about a third of the salvaged bottles had been ruined by leakage of sea water but he estimated that 4O to 5O were of the “highest quality”.
It has been determined by a team of experts that the Champagne came from two French houses – Veuve Clicquot and the now-defunct Juglar brand – based on the types of bottles and corks. Juhlin said the Baltic Sea floor had proved the ideal wine cellar with low temperatures, darkness and little oxygen. It was more of a challenge to preserve it once brought to the surface because of the change in pressure. All the bottles will be tasted and re-corked before being sold. Researchers have established that the Veuve Clicquot dates back to between 1832 and 1844, while the Juglar was produced in 1829 or even earlier. It is thought the Champagne was en route to Finland or Russia when the schooner sank. Perrier-Jouet has previously claimed that its 1825 vintage is the world’s oldest Champagne. Christian Ekström, the diver who discovered the bottles, said he and the other divers from the expedition would not profit from the sale because the wreck belonged to the Aland government. But he said he was pleased about the publicity his find had generated for the islands where he lives.