No, wines don’t just age in dark cellars. Some wineries prefer to have their wine aged underwater, directly in the sea, where the environmental conditions seem to be better for maintaining the wine’s characteristics. And the reasons, if you think about it, are quite clear: no oxygen, no light, constant temperature, and stillness. You couldn’t ask for a better way to age your wine in peace and quiet!
How Did the Idea of Ageing Wines Underwater Come About?
The idea of an underwater cellar was born in 2010, following the discovery of a ship that had sunk in 1880 in the Åland archipelago between Sweden and Finland. Divers found 168 bottles of Champagne, many of them signed Veuve Clicquot, which were probably on their way to Russia.
While many of the bottles were returned to the Champagne house, others were destined for laboratory examination and testing, and some were opened. The temptation to taste the fruit of 170 years of sea burial was just too strong! Although the bubbles had almost completely disappeared, the wine was unexpectedly still intact.
In 2014, Veuve Clicquot launched the “Cellar in the Sea” project. This involves having wine aged underwater at a depth of 42 metres, where Champagne can be aged in natural conditions. The project involves placing several wines (a selection of Yellow Label, Vintage Rosé 2004 and Demi-Sec), in different types of container, next to the famous wreck. The wines will be kept under close observation and subjected to laboratory tests for fifty years.
The Sunken Cellars of Europe
Since then, ageing wines underwater has been making waves in the world of wine, especially in Europe.
The Mediterranean is the hotbed of underwater cellars. In Greece, on the beautiful island of Santorini, the Gaia Wines winery places its metal cages full of bottles of Thalassitis wine, made from the noble Assyrtiko grape, at a depth of 25 metres for at least five years. In Croatia, they opt for a slightly more “vintage” method. The Edivovino winery places its bottles of wine in terracotta amphorae and lets them sit on the sea bed for 1-2 years.
Spain has also seized the opportunity to use the sea as a wine cellar. Vina Maris stores its wine, both red and white, in sealed bottles at a depth of 30 metres off the coast of Calpe, near Alicante. In the Basque Country, more precisely in Plentzia, there’s also a laboratory that studies the ageing of wine underwater: the Lseb – Laboratorio submarino envejecimiento bebidas.
In France, Château Larrivet Haut-Brion has submerged some of its prized Bordeaux wines in the depths of the Atlantic Ocean.
In Italy, the pioneer of aquatic wineries was Piero Lugano, owner of the Bisson winery in Chiavari. In 2009, Lugano placed no fewer than 6,500 bottles of his Abissi sparkling wine on the seabed of the Gulf of Portofino. Today, there are more than 30,000 bottles of his Riserva Marina di Portofino.
Since 2010, Tenuta del Paguro in Brisighella has sunk thousands of bottles of Merlot, Sangiovese, Albana and Cabernet in the wreck of an oil platform off the coast of Ravenna. Speaking of the Adriatic Sea, Ornella Molon Traverso’s Lagunare Rosso is left to age for six months in barrels lowered into the Caorle Lagoon.
In Sardinia, the Santa Maria La Palma winery in Alghero lets its Vermentino DOC rest in the beautiful Marine Protected Area of Capo Caccia.
Translated by Chelsea Cummings from Karin Mosca’s original Italian article: In fondo al mar: quando i vini invecchiano sott’acqua.