It is an undulating landscape made up of rock, gravel, sand and silt that has captivated and sustained mankind over millenia. The world’s oceans are home to a broad diversity of plant and animal life ranging from microscopic plankton to 200-ton blue whales. This watery kingdom has also recently been tapped for a different purpose. With a median temperature of about 50-55 degrees Fahrenheit, low ambient lighting and optimal pressure, the ocean floor is also the perfect cellar.
Interestingly enough, it is the absence of certain things that make underwater ageing so perfect for wine’s delicate consistency. Light, heat and oxygen are arch-enemies of wine, causing significant deterioration in both its taste and appearance. The sea floor has very little of all three. Also, given the expense associated with cellar space, underwater ageing offers the added benefit of being rent-free.
It is estimated that for wines, one year spent underwater is the equivalent of three years in a traditional cellar. If proven to be widely successful and safe, this could very well revolutionize the age-old process of wine maturation.
Powerful evidence of the viability of underwater cellaring emerged in 2010 when several perfectly preserved bottles of 170-year-old Champagne were recovered from the Baltic Sea.
Subsequently, whether it is for science or show, a handful of wineries have taken the proverbial plunge into deep-sea ageing for some of their bottles.
Could the future of wine tourism also lie underwater? Only time will tell.
These producers have pioneered deep-sea wine ageing with some impressive results:
Bodegas Wapisa, Rio Negro - Argentina
Based in Argentine Patagonia in the region known as the Rio Negro, Bodegas Wapisa first experimented with ageing wines in the Atlantic Ocean in February of 2020. The first lot of 1500 magnums of the winery’s 2017 Malbec blend were laid to rest in varying depths of six to 15 meters and were subsequently “harvested” nine months later.
After a subsequent tasting, Wapisa’s founder, veteran winemaker Particia Ortiz (of Bodegas Tapiz fame) concluded that compared to conventional cellaring, the ocean-aged wines were “stunning…” and “rounder, more elegant and with fresher fruit”.
The winery’s trials with deep-sea ageing continue with a new batch of bottles submerged in February 2021. This time, the wines were housed in cages that allow water to circulate around the bottles, and upon recovery, will be marketed to consumers for tasting.
Bodegas Raúl Perez, Rias Baixas - Spain
Depending on how one views his winemaking approach, Raúl Perez is an innovator or a maverick. While his name may not be one that consumers recognize, among winemakers he is considered a rock star. It does not hurt that he is a member of the Perez family, founders of one of Spain’s most venerated producers, Castro Ventosa in the Bierzo DO.
Although officially allowed to label his wines as DO Rias Baixas, Perez’s Sketch is sold simply as “Albariño”. Fruit for the wine is sourced from very old vines and fermentation takes place in 750 litre French oak barrels. Following 12 months of ageing on fine lees, bottles of Sketch are deposited at a depth of 19 meters in the Ria de Arousa, a local estuary that is also the source for some of Europe’s finest seafood. Three months later, a diver retrieves them and the minuscule production (typically 1,200 bottles or less) is offered up for grabs in the world wine market.
M. Hostomme, Champagne - France
M. Hostomme ages its Grand Cru Champagne for 12 months at a depth of 200 feet off the coast of Southern France. For ease of recovery and also presumably to discourage opportunistic scuba divers, the bottles are loaded and secured in cages prior to their ageing regimen on the ocean floor.
Abysse is the only ocean-aged Champagne that is legally imported into the US. However, the odds of successfully acquiring a bottle of this Grand Cru Blanc de Blanc Champagne are lower than the likelihood of finding a pearl in an oyster. Encased in an elegant blue and white box reminiscent of Tiffany’s signature packaging, only 60 bottles of Abysse are allocated to the US market each year with an equally luxurious price tag of $1,900 per bottle.