An experiment to see whether wine tastes better after being stored under the sea has returned successful results both in taste trials and laboratory tests.
Bruno Lemoine, who runs the cellars of Chateau Larrivet Haut-Brion, was curious to see whether previous reports on the benefits of storing wine under the sea were true. Top wines discovered on board ship-wrecked vessels often sell for thousands at auction, but Mr Lemoine wanted to see whether there were physical advantages of deep sea storage.
He said: "I had heard a bunch of stories about wines ageing at sea," citing a Bordeaux baron Louis-Gaspard d'Estournel who sent a shipment of wine to India in the 18th century. Some of the unsold bottles returned to France mysteriously improved by the hull journey. In 2010 there was a similar discovery, when 11 bottles of the world's oldest champagne, salvaged in 2010 from a Baltic Sea shipwreck, were auctioned off in Finland for 109,280 euros ($136,000).
"I found the whole idea amusing and intriguing," Lemoine said. "So when in 2009 we found ourselves with an exceptional vintage, full of rich tannins, I decided to put it to good use."
"It started out as a lark among friends. One of us came up with the idea and the others ran with it."
The barrels were made in precise conditions to ensure that the two were the same. One barrel was sent to be stored in the chateaux cellars, and the other was sunk underwater among the prized oyster beds of the Bay of Arcachon, north of Bordeaux on the Atlantic coast.
The barrel in the sea could roll around a little, and was very exposed to the wind and weather. The submerged cask was dubbed Neptune, after the sea god, and the barrel kept at the chateau was called Tellus, after the Roman goddess of the land.
Both barrels were retrieved earlier this year, and after wine tasting and laboratory testing, the results showed that Neptune was far better than it should have been. Additionally, lab tests showed that the wine was subtly changed by its ocean environment through a process of osmosis, which could help explain its superior taste.
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