'World's oldest champagne' uncorked

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Amid much fanfare, wine experts Wednesday popped the corks of two bottles of champagne recently salvaged from the bottom of the Baltic Sea, where they had lain in a sunken ship for nearly 200 years.

On stage in front of some 100 journalists and wine enthusiasts gathered in the capital of Finland's island province of Aaland, they eased the fragile corks from the dark brown bottles - one from the house of Veuve-Clicquot and the other from the now extinct house of Juglar.

As the contents were poured into rows of waiting glasses, the aroma was more pungent than any modern wine or champagne: a thick, nose-wrinkling bouquet that could be smelled several metres (yards) away.

"Bottles kept at the bottom of the sea are better kept than in the finest wine cellars," one of the world's foremost champagne experts, Richard Juhlin, told reporters.

Juhlin described the Juglar as "more intense and powerful, mushroomy," and the Veuve Clicquot as more like Chardonnay, with notes of "linden blossoms and lime peels".

Francois Hautekeur, a Veuve-Clicquot representative, said this particular batch of champagne dated back to when the Veuve (Widow) Clicquot herself, Barbe-Nicole Clicquot Ponsardin, reigned over the famous house.

"Madame Clicquot herself must have tasted this same batch, she tasted everything," he told AFP.

The historic estate announced Wednesday it had discovered that three or four bottles of its produce were found among the 168 salvaged bottles.

Hautekeur said the discovery came as a surprise and was intensely gratifying to the champagne maker, which after a tasting other bottles in August said they tasted great but were not Veuve-Clicquot.

He and other employees of the winemaker have been assisting Aaland historians in identifying and dating the champagne, which originates from the second quarter of the 19th century, making it probably the world's oldest.

"Somehow we deserved this reward ... for everyone at Veuve-Clicquot, it's like winning a championship," Hautekeur said.

The extravagance was part of a push by the tiny Aaland province to turn the sudden attention garnered from the sunken treasure into a marketing blitz for tourism.

The deputy head of the Aaland government, Britt Lundberg, announced that they planned to auction off one bottle of each make.

Juhlin told AFP that either bottle could fetch 100,000 euros (135,000 dollars).