Wine ex­per­i­ments in the Aegean

Greek oe­nol­o­gist tests con­di­tions for ag­ing world-renowned Assyr­tiko off San­torini

Kathimerini English - - Focus - BY MARO VASILEIADOU

Imag­ine a metal cage full of bot­tles of wine, with two buoys at­tached, be­ing gen­tly towed by a boat off the south­east­ern coast of San­torini. Then, it is slowly low­ered to the seabed. And there it re­mains, at a depth of 25 me­ters, for five years, a tem­po­rary at­trac­tion for the crea­tures of the deep.

Among the divers over­see­ing the process is Yian­nis Paraskevopou­los, oe­nol­o­gist and doc­tor of oenol­ogy at the Univer­sity of Bordeaux II and one of the founders of Gaia Wines, along with Leon Karat­sa­los. When we asked him why a suc­cess­ful win­ery with good sales and in­ter­na­tional awards de­cided to em­bark on such a ma­rine ad­ven­ture, he said: “It’s not an ad­ven­ture, it’s a chal­lenge, and part of a wider in­ter­na­tional ex­per­i­ment into ag­ing white wines, which in Greece is be­ing car­ried out with San­torini’s Assyr­tiko.” But why un­der­wa­ter? “Be­cause there the ag­ing oc­curs with­out oxy­gen and with­out light, with a steady tem­per­a­ture for as long as is re­quired,” he replies.

As is usu­ally the case, good ideas don’t come from nowhere, but it has not been that long since oe­nol­o­gists started look­ing for an al­ter­na­tive way of ag­ing wine with­out oxy­gen in­ter­fer­ing in the process. There are cur­rently 10 winer­ies around the world ex­per­i­ment­ing with un­der­wa­ter wine ag­ing – one in South Carolina and the rest in Spain, Italy, France and Greece.

Two years ago, the fa­mous French win­ery Veuve Clic­quot cre­ated its “Cel­lar Un­der the Sea,” sink­ing 300 reg­u­lar bot­tles of cham­pagne and 50 mag­nums of the stuff in the icy wa­ters of the Baltic. An iden­ti­cal sam­ple is be­ing aged in the cel­lars of the win­ery in Reims. Bot­tles from both the cel­lars and the seabed will be tested in parallel ev­ery two years for the next 50 years to de­ter­mine the life­time of cham­pagne aged in dif­fer­ent con­di­tions.

The idea for the ex­per­i­ment arose a few years ago af­ter the dis­cov­ery of a ship­wreck that sank off the coast of Fin­land in around 1840 while trans­fer­ring Veuve Clic­quot cham­pagne to Rus­sia. A to­tal 46 bot­tles were re­cov­ered in­tact, and though they were aged for more than a cen­tury, they had an im­pres­sive fresh­ness, ac­cord­ing to ex­perts.

But it ap­pears the sea is not the limit. In 2015 the Sun­tory Ya­mazaki Dis­tillery in Ja­pan an­nounced plans to send bot­tles of whisky into space to con­duct a two-year study on how ag­ing is af­fected by the to­tal ab­sence of grav­ity.

A quick search on the in­ter­net re­veals nu­mer­ous ar­ti­cles re­lat­ing to the is­sue of ag­ing al­co­holic bev­er­ages in the ab­sence of oxy­gen. There are of course skep­tics who won­der whether the ex­per­i­ment is a pub­lic­ity stunt with­out sub­stance.

“This is not about mar­ket­ing,” said Yian­nis Paraskevopou­los when we started talk­ing about Tha­las­si­tis Sub­merged – as the clas­sic Gaia Tha­las­si­tis aged in the sea is named.

His own con­clu­sions af­ter com­par­ing the Tha­las­si­tis Sub­merged with the same wine aged tra­di­tion­ally is very pos­i­tive. Al­though this is an aged white, it has a bright, vi­brant color and main­tains its crisp aroma. The fla­vor is also more ma­ture and rounded than its landaged coun­ter­part and with­out any trace of ox­i­da­tion.

In an in­ter­view, Jim “Bear” Dyke Jr, the pres­i­dent of Cal­i­for­nia’s Mira Win­ery, which sub­merges wines in Charleston Har­bor, South Carolina, said, “There is no doubt that the ocean holds a po­ten­tial gift to wine.”


Dur­ing the first year of the Greek ex­per­i­ment, in 2009, 500 bot­tles of Tha­las­si­tis were sub­merged and, of those, only three were suc­cess­fully re­cov­ered be­cause a storm swept away the cage. The next har­vest was placed at a deeper point, so it would be less ex­posed to the weather, but, be­cause of the in­creased pres­sure, sev­eral corks popped out. In Au­gust this year the batch sunk in 2011 was re­cov­ered, of which 211 bot­tles went on sale. At the same time, the batch for 2015 was sub­merged, which will be tested in 2020. And so the ex­per­i­ment con­tin­ues.

Dur­ing the first year of the Greek ex­per­i­ment, 500 bot­tles of Tha­las­si­tis were sub­merged but only three were re­cov­ered.

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