In 1916, the Swedish freighter Jönköping left the Swedish port Gävle heading for the Finish port of Rauma. It was chartered to deliver alcohol beverage presumably to the Russian Imperial court of Tsar Nicholas II. It was the height of the 1st World War and neutral Sweden was used as a transport channel for goods to Russia (Finland at the time was Russian territory). Loaded with precious liquids – 3.000 bottles of Champagne, 67 casks of Cognac and 17 barrels of Burgundy wine – the ship had to sail a short distance of about 240 km. Unfortunately it didn’t make it
Just a few miles away from the Finish coast.a German submarine stopped the freighter for investigation. During the war some kinds of goods were under embargoes between the Central Powers and the Allied and the cargo was considered as contraband. It was decided immediately to be destroyed together with the vessel. The Swedish captain tried to save it offering the Germans to take it to their nearest port, but it was denied. The explosions were set up and the freighter with the entire load sank to the cold Baltic waters.
It took 81 years until the summer of 1997 when the sunken ship was found by two Swedish divers. Using sonar, they located it at a depth of 64 meters and fortunately most of the cargo was intact; especially the bottles of champagne. The big surprise however was when they opened one of them, that it had an extraordinary taste. It suddenly revealed that lying at the seabed of the cold Baltic sea for almost a century did not only spoil the wine, but on the contrary – improved it.
Champagne is a demanding wine. In its country of origin it is stored in underground tunnels carved into chalk rocks and hundreds of mile long, where the temperature all the time is about 9-12C. Slowly and with no ‘pressure’ (in a sense of time), the carbon dioxide released from the 2nd fermentation dissolves into the wine. Under the local regulations this period should last at least 15 months for NV – non vintage or 3 years for Vintage.
For how long it could age in the bottle when it is ready for the market? In simple words, for how long it would be drinkable? It is a white wine after all (in most of the cases) and comparing to the reds it is notorious for losing that game (except the fabulous sweet white wines but that is another story). No one can give guarantees about the longevity of champagne but generally speaking it there are the two major prerequisites – a good quality and a well storage, it could be still palatable even after 80-100 years.
That’s why the founded champagne had such an exquisite taste. Because it was ‘stored’ in the most favourable conditions – cold temperature, humidity, pressure, no motion, no light and lack of oxygen. The perfect wine cellar! And at no cost!
The news spread quickly and one by one the bottles were sold in different parts of the world. What brand was the champagne? Heidsieck & Co Monopole, Goût Américain, Vintage 1907. It established two times world records as the most expensive champagne ever sold. The first one for $4.068 at Christie’s auction in London, and the second for $275.000 in a private sell at Ritz Carlton in Moscow.
The quality of the champagne in the sunken Jönköping surprised the modern winemakers all around the world and since then a new trend in wine storage emerged. For the last decade more and more producers experiment with sea ageing and all of them claim that the wine tastes better. Not only the sparklings, but also the whites and the reds. The common statement is that they are more complex than those in the cellar. Of course, it is not so simple to find the right place underwater and besides it is a labour cost procedure but it is sure that in their quest to produce the perfect wine, an increasing number of vintners explore all the options the Mother Nature offers.