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Snooth User: Robert Scibelli

I’d like to be, under the sea..

Posted by Robert Scibelli, Jun 11, 2008.

In an Octopuses' wine cellar, you see.

My rhyming skills aside; wine producers have been conducting ongoing experiments into the undersea ageing of wine in bottle. A glimpse into the rationale of one such recent experiment:

"This week one of France's oldest champagne houses, Louis Roederer, sent divers to place several dozen bottles of its Brut Premier on the seabed of Saint-Malo bay. In a year's time experts will assess if it has matured with a different or better taste than in the traditional cellars of the Champagne region. In order to prevent the bottles being stolen by underwater thieves, the divers have hidden them. The cellarmaster who thought up the idea has argued that the seabed off the Normandy coast makes an ideal wine cellar, the temperature is a constant 10 degrees, the movement of the current gently rocks the bottles and there is no danger of damage from UV light." - June 4, 2008, The Guardian, UK

What really struck me about the article was the image of Champagne thieves strapping on scuba gear to plunder the treasure buried beneath. I imagine it might be easier to drop in at the local market, but that would deprive future generations a good story.

It also highlights the lengths that producers are willing to go through to protect their considerable investment and ensure that their wines are in top condition (if not at their peak for drinking) when released to the market. Wines like Champagne may age 3, 5 or more years prior to release and you really can't have those bottles just sitting on the kitchen counter.

While it will be interesting to see the results of this experiment - cut to image of a school of fish sabering open bubbly and riding the stream of bubbles to the surface - it really does drive home a divide in the quality of preparation in wine for sale on the producer side and how that regard for the wine’s health deteriorates at each step in the distribution chain. From non-climate controlled container ships or trucks to warm distribution warehouses and retail shops to, well, your kitchen counter.

I was reminded of this as I frantically searched the house for all of those wines I had been saving for some occasion or another and piled them in the refrigerator. If you are reading this in the Northeast you know why, record heat and humidity which drove the internal temperature in my apartment to 120 degrees and had very much the same effect on most non-subterranean dwellings.

Every step a wine takes away from its place of origin is an opportunity for disaster. The better importers and retailers go through great pains to protect their wines and make sure the bottles make it to you in as close to the intended condition as possible. But even with the climate control shippers and retail shops chilled down to cellar temperatures you will always lose a step or two.

That is why travelers who try to recreate a wine experience (say a bottle of Chianti at the Tuscan vineyard where the grapes were grown) are almost always disappointed - and not just by the fact that they are no longer at a Tuscan Villa, but by the fact that the wine - even though identically made - is just not quite the same.

What to do? Not much I am afraid, try to store your wine away from light and heat and enjoy it for what it is and not what it was. The best bottle of Barbaresco I have ever had was at the winery in Piedmont. It was twenty years old and tasted and smelled as fresh as a trellis of roses. I was partially humbled by the fact that the wine had traveled probably 20 feet in its 20 years and existed in the perfect conditions of the producer's cellar for that entire time.

I can never have that bottle again but that is alright, that is what wine is at its best as fluid as the tides in the sea.

Robert Scibelli is a lecturer and administrator at New York’s premier wine school, International Wine Center .

Replies

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Reply by oceank8, Jun 12, 2008.

I bet the prices of those bottles under the sea will sky rocket (maybe we should get our scuba gear). I wonder how long until the put some on the moon?

But you make a good point, it is hard to buy wine when you don't know what kinds of conditions it comes from. Always nice when you can do an in store or in winery tasting and then buy it right then; just about the only time you can be pretty sure what your buying is in the same condition as what you tasted.

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Reply by Mark Angelillo, Jun 12, 2008.

I'm pretty sure I've bought some quality bottles of wine that were ruined by improper storage. The wines were sold at pretty good prices (maybe 60% of what I expected) so my suspicion is the retailer knew what he had on his hands and was happy to get rid of it.

Faulted wine is a big point of interest for me, and I enjoy hearing about the lengths wineries will go to to protect their investments. Every wine lover should invest in a solid wine fridge!


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