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350 year-old shipwreck wine discovered in the North Sea. Source: Wojciech / Christie’s.

Shipwreck's 350-Year-Old Bottles of Wine Are Up for Auction - Would You Take a Sip?

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Divers have uncovered many treasures and rare items from the seafloor. Some years ago, a team of divers recovered a collection of wine-bottles from a shipwreck in the North Sea. They date back over 300 years and the wine is about to be sold at one of the world’s most prestigious auction houses, Christie's of London .

Divers were investigating a shipwreck off the coast of Hamburg, in Germany in 2010. They were working at a depth of 120 feet (40 meters). Sadly, the ship had deteriorated badly and there was not much to salvage. During the divers’ investigation of the wreck, they discovered fourteen bottles of wine, in a decaying wicker basket embedded in mud on the seafloor. The divers brought the find back to the surface, but according to Fox News “during the recovery, one of the bottles was broken.”

Salvaged Bottles From a Shipwreck

The divers also opened one of the bottles to discover its contents and to their delight, they realized that they had found a number of wine bottles. According to Atlas Obscura , “after the salvagers plucked the case from the sea, scientists got to work interpreting the bottles’ contents”. They were studied in the laboratory of the prestigious Institut Universitaire de la Vigne et du Vin at the University of Burgundy, in Dijon, France.

The divers opened one of the bottles and discovered it was shipwreck wine. ( Igor Normann / Adobe Stock)

Based on the discovery of tartaric acid in the liquid in the bottles the lab established it was a wine. Tests were also carried out to determine if there were plant-based phenolic compounds in the liquid in the recovered bottles. Fox News quotes Prof Gougeon that these tests “confirmed a typical old wine signature rich in tannin degradation products and together with the presence of resveratrol enables us to tell it was a strong red wine.”

Shipwreck Wine Over Three Centuries Old

The wine was dated based on the bottles’ design to the 17th century. Christie's believe that, the “wine was bottled between 1670 and 1690.” The wine is not by any means among the oldest ever found. Archaeologists have also found wine in a tomb in Speyer , in Germany, that dates from the 6th century AD.

It is not possible to definitively state the origin of the wine but based on the location where it was found and probable date, it is most likely a Bordeaux, from a vineyard in the south-west of France. The bottles probably sank while being transported from France to Hamburg.

The shipwreck wine is most likely from a vineyard in the south-west of France. (FreeProd / Adobe Stock)

The shipwreck wine is most likely from a vineyard in the south-west of France. ( FreeProd / Adobe Stock)

The wine was not fortified, and this raises doubts as to whether or not it is drinkable. On the balance of probability, the beverage is probably drinkable, but it would not be pleasant tasting. The bottles have been stored with special equipment to make sure that the wine is preserved. Food & Wine reports that “time has marbled the bottles to a shell-like sheen” and they are very striking. The auction-house has re-sealed the bottles with a red-wax seal.

Time has marbled the bottles of the shipwreck wine to a shell-like sheen, and Christie’s has sealed the tops with fresh red wax. (Christie’s)

Time has marbled the bottles of the shipwreck wine to a shell-like sheen, and Christie’s has sealed the tops with fresh red wax. ( Christie’s)

Shipwreck Wine to be Auctioned

Two of the bottles are going to be auctioned by Christie's at their prestigious ‘Finest and Rarest Wines and Spirits sale’. They will be sold in specially designed water tanks to preserve the contents. The auction house has placed an estimated price range on the two bottles of between $33,000 and $38,000. These bottles are the oldest that have ever been auctioned by Christie's. The items will be auctioned off in the coming weeks and they are being advertised as ‘shipwreck wine’ according to Fox News .

Those who purchase the two bottles will receive a certificate from the divers who recovered the items. The auction house, because the wine may not be drinkable or at least taste good, are advertising the bottles as items of historic significance. Food &Wine quotes the auctioneers as stating the lot should be regarded “of historical and vinous importance.” In other words, the two bottles of wine should be regarded as objects of great historical value. Whether this will convince someone to pay a small fortune for the two bottles remains to be seen.

Top image: 350 year-old shipwreck wine discovered in the North Sea. Source: Wojciech / Christie’s.

By Ed Whelan

Comments

If I was going to buy an expensive wine to drink I think I would get from a highly rated and small batch producer for a fresh bottle no older than 25 years.
If I was just a wine collector I would definitely want one of those sunken bottles to show my friends in my big wine cellar.

Gary Moran's picture

If people are willing to try the fetid soup from that sarcogophus in Egypt, some would surely be willing to try this wine, but why spoil it? I tried some 60 year old whisky from a fancy decanter bottle – some brand I’d never heard – and it was terrible. I think the cork had deteriorated and let air in, but I’m not sure it was very good when it was bottled. Buyer beware, ha.

Yes I'd give it a taste.... I got a great sip from a 200 yr old Cognac from a musty old basement!

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