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**NEW** The Chloé Grandpierre Column

The first in a regular series of articles by Chloé

Ageing wine underwater: myth or reality?

Two thousand years ago, Lucius Columelle (a Roman agronomist) advised winemakers to put sea water in wine. It was trendy to add water, especially sea water, in one’s drinks to add sweetness as well as increase the flavours.

The ocean holds quite a bit of the wine world’s history! Magical discoveries such as bottles from the Titanic, bottles of Champagne at the bottom of the Baltic Sea (one of which, a 170 year-old bottle of Veuve Clicquot, was sold at auction for almost US$80,000), and the Greek or Roman amphorae in the Mediterranean Sea, are perfect examples.

Many studies have been conducted in South America and in Spain’s Basque region to see if these theories hold true. Today many question them and while some believe that they are true, others see them as a marketing stunt.

It is common to find wineries which age their wines in amphorae like the Clos Romain. In addition, Château du Coureau aged its Graves Blanc des Cabanes in the Bassin d'Arcachon and Emmanuel Poirmeur aged his wine ‘Egiategia’ in concrete vats in the bay of Saint-Jean-de-Luz. There are many other examples but only one Grand Cru Classé of Bordeaux has tried the experiment.

Grand Cru Classé, Château Larrivet Haut-Brion is part of the Pessac Léognan appellation.

The name of this famous cru is written on the wall. Through the centuries, this incredible place has had different names, owners, and has also expanded in size!

The original name of the property was ‘Château de Canolle’, then ‘Château La Rivette’, and finally in 1874 it was christened ‘Château Haut-Brion Larrivet’.

The 50 hectare vineyard has survived much of our world’s history: notably the First World War, the viticultural crisis in the Thirties, and the Second World War. Jacques Guillemaud bought the estate in the 1940s with the intention of resurrecting its prestige including changing the name to Château Larrivet Haut-Brion.

In 1987 the famous Gervoson family became the new owners with the aim of carrying on Guillemaud’s work. In just a few years under their ownership, the property grew from 17 hectares of vines and 13 hectares of park, to a total of 72.5 hectares. This was in part thanks to the acquisition of 11.5 hectares of white wine varietals and 61 hectares of red wine ones.

Does the name ‘Gervoson’ ring a bell with you?  If I were to tell you about ‘Andros’, would you know who I am referring to? Yes, Château Larrivet Haut-Brion is owned by the son of the creator of this well-known fruit products brand.

The Œnofolies (organized by Emilie Gervoson) are a great opportunity for fine wine enthusiasts to meet. It is quite a privilege for a group to attend an event held at the Château or even a soirée in Paris.

Here is a list of recent Œnofolies:

- Œnofolies 1, June 25, 2011, between Cap Ferret and Léognan in Bordeaux area: Between Land & Sea, an exploration and an amazing tasting...

- Œnofolies 2, November 22, 2011, in Paris: Château Larrivet Haut-Brion joined with Champagne Ruinart and caviar to ‘Play with the palate’...

- Œnofolies 3, February 14, 2012, in Paris: ‘Artistic Wine or Inebriating Art?’

- Œnofolies 4, November 17, 2012, in Léognan (Bordeaux): Underwater ageing, myth or reality? I attended this one. It's the topic of my article below!

There were about twenty of us at this tasting. Welcomed by Emilie Gervoson, the owner's first daughter, ambassador, and creator of the Œnofolies, we were able to enjoy the wonderful sunshine before beginning our visit of the cellar with General Manager Bruno Lemoine.

Wine enthusiast Bruno shared his story on how the latest Œnofolie was born. During a lunch with Pierre-Guillaume Chiberry, Director of Marketing for the Tonnellerie Radoux, and actor/oyster farmer Joël Dupuch, they discussed the famous Marquis d'Estournel who was shipping wines to India in the 18th century. The wines which were not sold were returned. However upon arrival in Bordeaux they were found to be better than before!

As a result of this discussion an idea was born: to compare wine matured under water – at the mercy of the wind and the waves – with that which has been cellar aged in a perfectly controlled and balanced environment.

Pierre-Guillaume Chiberry, Director of Marketing for the Tonnellerie Radoux introduced the three little barrels. Each contained 56 litres and just like those one can find in a Château cellar, they were made from French oak with classical ‘toast’.

There is an interesting story behind one of them. During the ‘Festival of the River’ in Bordeaux, the boat sailed 500 metres before it hit a sandbank causing the project to be abandoned.

The second barrel was submerged in Joël Dupuch’s oyster beds for circa six months. The third barrel was aged for an additional six months in the Château cellar.

All the barrels were custom-made with special stainless steel corks. They were filled with the same vintage: 2009, an exceptional year in Bordeaux and were then sealed in the presence of a legal executive.

In February 2012, the barrels were opened and examined in the Michel Rolland Laboratory, which specializes in wine analysis. A tasting was done with the famous taster Bernard Burstchy. The conclusion was astonishing!

So much so that it was decided that only a few select people would taste the wine during an Œnofolie. With 56 litres to one barrel, 20 magnums and 20 bottles were filled. To continue the experiment, most of the magnums and bottles are going to be cellared and will be tasted in the future to see how they have evolved over time.

Verdict: underwater ageing is no longer a myth for those who have tasted the results!

Chloé Grandpierre
Professionnel du Vin, Bailliage of France