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May 25, 2011

Åland Islands: Shipwrecked Champagne Auction

By Sarah Smith | Spirits


Sometime in the mid-19th century, a two-masted schooner (possibly bound for the Russian tsar's court in St. Petersburg) sank in the outer archipelago of Åland, a cluster of islands in the Baltic Sea that is now an autonomous region of Finland. Almost 200 years later, in July 2010, divers from Åland and Sweden discovered the wreck 165 feet below the water's surface. The hull was mostly empty, but lying in straw were 145 Champagne bottles from the houses of Veuve Clicquot, Heidsieck and the now-shuttered Juglar. Experts tasted the spirits and determined they had been bottled around 1840, making them the oldest Champagnes in the world. More surprisingly, they were still in excellent condition, having had little exposure to light and temperature change over the years and maintaining their bouquet of ripe fruit, golden raisins and an aroma of tobacco. On June 3, in the capital city of Mariehamn, the Åland government will auction off two of the bottles (a Veuve Clicquot and a Juglar), with proceeds going toward marine archaeology and environmental charities. There will be presentations by Champagne expert Richard Juhlin, Veuve Clicquot historian Fabienne Moreau and Anders Näsman, leader of the wreck-salvage operation. With such an unprecedented event, experts can only give a ballpark estimate: upwards of $15,000 each. To register for the event, e-mail info@ackerwines.com. For more information, go to visitaland.com/champagne.

Photo Courtesy Åland Government / Daniel Eriksson