Champagne from Baltic Sea shipwreck up for grabs

NEW YORK, April 26 Tue Apr 26, 2011 7:44am EDT

Auctioneer John Kapon, president and director of auctions for Acker Merrall & Condit, takes bids from people at the restaurant Marea and bidders online at a rare wine auction in New York March 19, 2011. REUTERS/ Mark Dye

Auctioneer John Kapon, president and director of auctions for Acker Merrall & Condit, takes bids from people at the restaurant Marea and bidders online at a rare wine auction in New York March 19, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/ Mark Dye

NEW YORK, April 26 (Reuters) - Two bottles of champagne, thought to be about 200 years old and part of a cache of 150 salvaged from a 19th century shipwreck in the Baltic Sea, will be auctioned in Finland in June.

The cache, which belongs to the government of Aland, an archipelago in the Baltic, includes a bottle from the house of Veuve Clicquot and another from Juglar, which closed its doors in the early 19th century.

Acker Merrall & Condit, of New York, will auction the two bottles on June 3.

When the first bottle was recovered from the sunken two-masted schooner dating from about 1780-1830, Swedish champagne writer Richard Juhlin estimated it would fetch about 500,000 Swedish krona.

"We didn't know if it was going to be anything drinkable," Ella Grussner Cromwell-Morgan, a sommelier who lives on Aland, said in a telephone interview about the first bottle.

Wine experts estimated from the corks and the hand-blown bottles that the wines were produced between 1811 and 1831.

"Most likely they're older than that, because in those days they kept wine stored for 10-12 years in barrels before they shipped it," said Christian Erikson, the diver who discovered the cache.

Erikson, a friend of Cromwell-Morgan, brought the first bottle to her.

"It tasted sweet, but it had that really crisp acidity that made it so balanced," she said about the bottle from Juglar. "And, of course, it had all those secondary flavours -- the leather, the tobacco, the dried fruits -- that are associated with older wines. And there was the definite impression of oak."

Cromwell-Morgan tasted two more bottles -- another Juglar and a Veuve Clicquot. A few bottles of Heidsieck, now part of the Vranken Pommery Monopole Group, were also discovered.

"The Juglar still had a flowery, young citrus aroma, sort of fruity apricots, while the Veuve Cliquot was more mushrooms," Cromwell-Morgan said, adding that it was consistent with the 19th century, when sweet wines were favoured.

Wine experts suggest the Baltic's steady 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius) temperature, the darkness and lying undisturbed 150 feet (50 meters) under water helped in the wines aging process.

Erikson said he felt a bit guilty about drinking some of the champagne straight from the bottle.

"If I'd known it was worth so much, I would have at least poured it into a glass first," he said.

Aland, an autonomous region, is a duty free port, so the buyers will not have to pay any taxes, according to Bjorn Haggblom, head of communications for the government of Aland.

The government intends to use the auction's proceeds to fund maritime archaeological work and benefit the Baltic Sea environment. $1=6.1075 SEK

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