170-year-old champagne tastes like wet, cheesy hair

Scientists recently analyzed bottles of 19th century champagne preserved under the sea for years

Published April 21, 2015 5:15PM (EDT)

       (<a href='http://www.shutterstock.com/gallery-137002p1.html'>Africa Studio</a> via <a href='http://www.shutterstock.com/'>Shutterstock</a>)
(Africa Studio via Shutterstock)

Any biological scientist's dream (I would imagine) is to find a specimen from hundreds of years ago, so perfectly preserved that it allows us a glimpse into what life was like in the past. In 2010, divers found such a specimen -- or, 168 of them to be exact.

From a shipwreck off the Finnish Aland archipelago, divers recovered 168 bottles of near-perfectly preserved champagne, which scientists have now identified as having been corked in the 1830s or 1840s.

"After 170 years of deep-sea aging in close-to-perfect conditions, these sleeping Champagne bottles awoke to tell us a chapter of the story of winemaking," the romantic researchers wrote in a study published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 

"We were thinking the chemical composition of this wine would be very different from the composition of wines today. But that was wrong. We have found that the wines were very similar," said Philippe Jeandet, the lead author of the study and professor at the University of Reims Champagne-Ardenne. The report includes descriptions of the first flavors detected in 2012 taste tests which include the paramountly unappetizing "wet hair," "cheesy" and "animal notes." Those horrible flavors were shortly replaced with more pleasing floral notes after the wine was exposed to the air for a short amount of time.

The L.A. Times' Eryn Brown reports:

The finished, bottled product fished out of the Baltic had a much higher sugar content than today's wine: about 150 grams per liter, versus the 6-8 grams per liter in modern brut. That's very sweet (a 12-ounce serving of Coca-Cola has 39 grams of sugar, the equivalent of nearly 110 grams per liter), but it reflects the tastes of European wine drinkers of the day, who liked their champagne very sweet, Jeandet said.

The sugar content also provided a clue that the shipwrecked bottles were probably on their way to Germany or Finland and not to Russia, where Veuve Cliquot sold a beverage known as Champagne à la Russethat had super-high sugar levels about 300 grams per liter.

“The identification of very specific flavour and aroma compounds points to a very complex product, like modern champagne, albeit having been altered somewhat,” said Patrick McGovern, a biomolecular archaeologist from the University of Pennsylvania in an interview with Nature. “Considering that these champagnes had been ‘aged underwater’ for 170 years, they were amazingly well preserved.”

By Joanna Rothkopf

MORE FROM Joanna Rothkopf

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Alcohol Beverage Champagne Chemistry Food Science Taste Wine