Bottle of grey wine that was dug out of US Civil War shipwreck after 151 years gets tasted

It tasted like crab water and gasoline, the wine experts said

Lamiat Sabin
Saturday 07 March 2015 10:13
Comments
They grey liquid that was once wine doesn't look too appealing
They grey liquid that was once wine doesn't look too appealing

An old bottle of wine containing grey liquid that was dug up from a US Civil War shipwreck was uncorked and tasted yesterday.

It was recovered intact four years ago from the 1864 wreck of the Mary-Celestia blockade runner that sank off the coast of Bermuda. It was sampled by wine experts after being submerged for 151 years.

The sommeliers’ verdict at a food festival in Charleston, South Carolina, is that the grey “wine” actually smelled and tasted like crab water, gasoline, salt water, vinegar, with hints of citrus and alcohol.

It could have been a Spanish fortified wine, a spirit, or medicine. But after spending a century-and-a-half at the bottom of the ocean, it’s now mostly saltwater.

About 50 people who bought tickets to the Charleston Wine + Food event titled “From Deep Below: A Wine Event 150 Years in the Making” also tasted the drink.

“I’ve had shipwreck wines before,” master sommelier Paul Roberts said. “They can be great.”

An excavation of the bow of the Civil War blockade runner ship

A sample smelled like camphor, stagnant water, hydrocarbons, turpentine and sulphur, wine chemist Pierre Louis Teissedre of the University of Bordeaux said after analysing samples. Analysis showed it was 37 percent alcohol.

The wine was one of five sealed bottles recovered by marine archaeologists from the iron-hulled sidewheel steamship that sank under mysterious circumstances during the US Civil War.

The boat was leaving Bermuda with supplies for the Confederate states when it struck a reef and sank in six minutes, said cultural anthropologist and Bermudan shipwreck expert Philippe Rouja.

A diver holds the bottle from the Civil War ship Mary-Celestia in 2011

Whether the sinking was deliberate or accidental has been debated.

Philippe and his brother, Jean-Pierre Rouja, were diving on the shipwreck in 2011 after winter storms swept over the site when they found a bottle of wine inside a secret boatswain’s locker in the bow.

Subsequent dives turned up the additional bottles, as well as sealed bottles of perfume, women’s shoes, hairbrushes and pearl shell buttons.

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War, which was fought from 1861 to 1865 and began in Charleston Harbor with the Battle of Fort Sumter.

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