Is it a myth or a reality? Does underwater-aged wine taste different? These questions have intrigued wine enthusiasts and connoisseurs alike, and the exploration of ageing wine underwater has sparked both curiosity and controversy.
The story begins with the discovery of a sunken old ship, among its treasures were a number of champagne bottles identified as Veuve Clicquot, aged for approximately 160 years. This was an exciting find for wine lovers, raising the question of whether the champagne was still drinkable. To everyone’s surprise, it was not only drinkable but also remarkably enjoyable. This discovery served as a catalyst for discussions about the potential benefits of underwater ageing for wines.
From a scientific perspective, wine ageing typically requires specific levels of humidity and temperature. Water can indeed provide these conditions, but it’s essential to recognise that different bodies of water, such as oceans, rivers, and lakes, have varying temperatures. This raises the question of the ideal depth for storing wine underwater. Shallow waters have additional factors to consider, such as light exposure and the potential for bottle movement due to waves. Conversely, deeper, colder waters may offer a different ageing environment. These complexities give rise to numerous unanswered questions.
Experiments around the world, including those in Portugal, have sought to age wines underwater in oceans and lakes. The results have been controversial, with some claiming that it enhances the wine and others asserting that it makes little difference. The subjectivity of these findings adds to the intrigue. It’s worth noting that marketing plays a significant role in shaping public perception. The example of sending bottles of the renowned French wine Petrus to space is a case in point. While some assert that the wine was notably altered by the experience, others argue that the extent of improvement does not justify the exorbitant prices these bottles command.
The same ambiguity surrounds underwater-aged wines. While some believe that they undergo a transformation, a comprehensive evaluation requires extended ageing periods, as the underwater ageing process is inherently slower. This is where marketing pressures often come into play. Producers may not have the luxury of allowing wine to mature for extended periods due to commercial demands. To justify the high prices, many resort to presenting bottles adorned with shells, emphasising the romanticism of the underwater ageing process. While storytelling is undoubtedly a powerful element in wine marketing, it sometimes overshadows the core question of whether the wine genuinely benefits from underwater ageing.
Nonetheless, there are exciting projects underway, and the results are yet to be fully understood. It is perhaps premature to draw definitive conclusions about the impact of underwater ageing on wine. What is clear is that the wine community should remain open-minded about these innovative ideas.
Looking back through history, the Portuguese were pioneers in transporting Madeira wines on ships around the world. This historical practice later proved to enhance and transform the wines. This historical precedent demonstrates the potential for innovations in wine ageing, whether it be underwater or even in space.
To summarise, the concept of ageing wine underwater is a fascinating and evolving topic. It raises scientific questions about the effects of different water conditions and depths, while also highlighting the influence of marketing on consumer perception. Ultimately, only time and further exploration will reveal whether underwater ageing truly enhances the wine and to what extent. As we continue to experiment and innovate in the world of winemaking, we may be on the cusp of a new era, where wine ageing underwater or in space becomes a legitimate and celebrated practice in the world of fine wines.