Grapevine: Closure(?) on the Mystery of the Shipwrecked Champagne

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Nick Antonaccio
Nick Antonaccio

In the course of my musings and meanderings the last five-plus years of penning this column, I’ve had the occasion to report on a multitude of subjects around the mesmerizing world of wine.

Oftentimes educational (wine regions, grape varietals), on other occasions self-exploring (pairing wine with music, linking my enjoyment of wines to life events) and in other instances tracking news events unfolding in the world of wine, I’ve enjoyed the research and resulting reports presented to readers.

Many times these news events have a natural and logical beginning and end; at other times the plot is midstream at the time of my writing, waiting for the hands of time to complete the course of the event. I’ve also heard from readers inquiring if closure has been achieved on a few of them.

I’ve decided to open my archived columns in an attempt to bring closure to several open news reports. This week, I’m commencing a new (irregularly scheduled) series to report on these events.

In 2010, a group of Finnish divers discovered bottles of fine champagne that were purported to be 230 years old. This caused a great stir in the Champagne industry, among collectors and within the local Finnish government of the island of Aaland, where the sunken ship transporting the bottles was found (and who were anxious to capitalize on this marketing opportunity). Multiple theories emerged at the time as to the authenticity of the wines and the likelihood of their drinkability after 230 years on the bottom of the sea. Controversy was swirling at the time I penned a column reporting the discovery.

Since then, research has concluded that at least a portion of the cache, the Veuve Cliquot, was authentic and that the contents were indeed highly palatable. No less than the house of Veuve Cliquot itself has validated this conclusion.

So what to do with the oldest bottles of champagne in the world to have been found and which are still drinkable? And who owns them? Since their discovery, the bottles have been in the possession of the Aaland government, which claimed rights to the shipwreck found within its territorial boundaries and decided to test the waters by auctioning a few bottles in 2011.

Two of the bottles were sold at a record price: $68,000 for the pair.

Last June a second auction was held. This time, 11 bottles were auctioned. The interest was not as great as the first auction: total proceeds were $156,000, including $19,500 for a single bottle of Veuve Cliquot.

Side fact: One of the purchasers last June was Christian Ekström, the local diver who originally discovered, and tasted, the bottles in 2010. He paid $13,000 for the privilege to display the bottle in his family-owned bar. Rather expensive bragging rights?

The Aaland government decided that the popularity of their stash was declining, so they moved the remaining bottles to a secure storeroom, waiting for the prime time to auction the wines.

But the tale continues its intrigue. No less an austere body than UNESCO has notified the Aaland government that the bottles are considered archeological artifacts and must be preserved, not sold. In essence, the actions of the Aaland government could be considered inappropriate and perhaps even cast as looting an archaeological site.

Mystery of the shipwrecked Champagne: solved. Mystery of the ownership of the unsold bottles: still to be determined.

Food for Thought: this Thursday, April 25 at 6:30 p.m. I am emcee at the fourth annual Phelps Memorial Hospital wine event. This year’s theme is A Virtual Tour along the California Pacific Coast Highway Wine Route, beginning in SonomaCounty, then on to Monterey, Paso Robles and Santa Barbara. A combination of premium and moderately priced red and white wines will be offered. The wines will be paired with unique regional hors d’oeuvres at the TappanHillMansion in Tarrytown. For info and tickets, visit, Featured Events.

Nick Antonaccio is a 35-year Pleasantville resident. For over 15 years he has conducted  wine tastings and lectures. He also offers personalized wine tastings and wine travel services. Nick’s credo: continuous experimenting results in instinctive behavior. You can reach him at or on Twitter @sharingwine.


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