19th century champagnes hold history of Baltic wine merchants

Baltic ChapganeView larger image

Modern-day wine merchants might think they have a lot in common with their predecessors from centuries gone by, but a haul of 170-year-old champagne has offered some insight into how practices have changed in the past two centuries.

A total of 168 bottles were retrieved from the Baltic Sea in 2010, from the shipwreck of a schooner some 50 metres below the surface, which was carrying bottles from Heidsieck, Juglar and Veuve Clicquot-Ponsardin.

The University of Reims in the Champagne region itself has now published the results of chemical analysis and conventional wine tasting of the bottles in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

It found that certain compounds were detected using both methods - descriptions like 'leathery', 'grilled' and 'spicy', for example - and the low levels of acetic acid indicated that the wines were fairly well preserved.

But some of the ingredients might come as a surprise to modern-day wine merchants, such as the presence of ribose, hinting at the use of grape syrup in the preparation of the champagne.

Oak lactones indicate that the champagne was produced in wooden barrels, while the higher sugar content led the researchers to suggest that the bottles may have been intended for delivery in Germany, as opposed to other locations where brut champagnes are more popular.