I have heard of some strange places to cellar your wine (see my blog Weird and Wonderful Wine Cellars) but now it seems as if the sea bed is becoming quite a popular location. An unusual wine tasting took place last week at Saint-Malo, a northerly French port known for some of the biggest tides in Europe. A group of wine buffs were sampling bottles of Loire Valley wines – Anjou Village de Brissac-Quincé – that had spent a year submerged 10 metres at the bottom of the sea.
The wine was submerged as part of an experiment to see if the effects of the tides can improve the quality of choice vintages. In total, 600 bottles (300 red and 300 white) were submerged in the bay. They were placed in slatted wooden crates that allow for the passage of undersea currents.
The wines were hauled to the surface by a crab boat named “Shangaie” which winched up two enormous open-weave wooden cases, badly sea-weathered and covered in abalone, seaweed and limpets. It was a highly delicate operation carried out by professional abalone fishermen in diving suits.
Simultaneously, and for the 4th consecutive year, 600 other bottles - 300 of white Burgundy and 300 of Rhone Valley Crozes-Hermitage red, the necks tightly sealed with hard wax – were lowered into the water for a one-year wait in the rolling currents.
The wines were compared with bottles of the same wine stored on dry land. There is a difference according to Christophe Daviaud, owner of Brissace-Quincé:”The underwater whites have more obvious wood aromas, more of the toasted barrel. . . The submerged reds have evolved more slowly than the non-submerged reds . . . They could well become vin de garde (fine wines that can last up to 40 years in the bottle).”
Yannick Heude, local wine shop owner and master of ceremonies of the underwater experiment, agreed and said he could detect a certain extra freshness in the submerged whites.
The sea-buried bottles have been dispatched to the nearby island of Cezembre, where they were to be auctioned for the benefit of a French charity to feed the homeless, the Restaurant du Coeur, and the National Sea Rescue Society (SNSM).
The project was the brainchild of Heude and three friends: Emmanuel George, a conch grower and wholesale fish merchant from nearby, Yann Le Nabour, a professional fisherman, and Rene Suzanne, a former restaurateur and the one who came up with the idea in the first place.
Heude says that “the aging effect is different than on land. We knew the sea was a good wine cellar because in terms of the level of humidity, you couldn’t find better.
There’s no ultraviolet sunlight and the average temperature is stable at between 9 and 12 degrees below 10 metres. What we didn’t know was the effect of the tides and the currents of 8 knots (15 kilometres/9 miles per hour) that massage the bottles twice a day.
They amplify the wine’s evolution, which seems younger when it comes out of the sea, but with smoother and rounder flavours and smells. We were convinced the first time we did this, and now each year we will do it again.”