Sailing with Charlie: Wine

For all those in the luxury yacht chartering business a new trend is developing: ‘Undersea Wine.’ When Charlie was growing up in England in the hotel business some sixty years ago wine was an accompaniment to have with lunch or dinner and usually for special occasions. Choices were not difficult; it was white with fish or red with meat. It was a dry white with fish and sweet with dessert. Reds were either full bodied or light, depending on personal preference. French wines were almost exclusively served with a smattering of German – all others were considered inferior.

Graphics by Anouk Sylvestre
Graphics by Anouk Sylvestre

Fast forward a few decades and countries from all over the world were now producing very acceptable beverages. Sommeliers had to know their stuff as tasters were becoming more and more analytic and critical. Wine tastings became fashionable and it was no longer ‘rich and full bodied’ but more like ‘well matured with a hint of peach and strawberry with notes of leather and tobacco with a pleasing after taste of a wafting moorland breeze,’ for instance. 

A Pinot Noir might be described as follows : ‘A full-bodied textured wine with hints of violets and lavender with red fruits like raspberries and cactus. As this wine ages it gets spicier with notes of mint and cinnamon. A nose of barnyard may be detected as the aging advances.’ Perhaps it was where the expert taster was standing. Tip: stand clear of the toilet door.

There’s one wine that was described as ‘vibrant with a complex nose that opens with floral, stone fruit and berry aromas – rose petal, violet, pomegranate, plum cherry, raspberry, black currant, boysenberry – that deepen with spice and wood notes – cinnamon, white pepper, thyme, vanilla, cedar, sandalwood, chocolate. Gentle oak aging adds definition…’ It’s almost as if these experts are afraid they might have missed something. Charlie can offer a clue – grapes.

Now to ‘Undersea Wine.’ Wineries from Argentina, Spain, Portugal and even the UK are trying it. Various wines from sparkling to rich reds are sunk to varying depths and allowed to mature for perhaps a year or more. It’s becoming a niche trend and although some dismiss it as a marketing ploy, others are taking it seriously. Some tasters have noted a saline character while others emphasize that nothing can come in or out of the bottle – a little chicanery here no doubt. One expert sommelier was shocked when he found a tiny minnow in his glass of Undersea Merlot. He got his own back when he found the joker and mixed a spoonful of anchovy paste into his Pinot Noir. Yes, they can be a dodgy lot, these wine tasters.

The overall conclusion is that a young wine can mature more quickly under the sea and produce a wine similar to a twenty-year vintage in a wine cellar. Critics describe a unique freshness and more fruit flavor, a certain vibrancy with a silkiness of texture. The reasons given are pressure, temperature, minimum light and ocean vibrations.

The marketing aspect is undeniable. Undersea bottles become encrusted with the calcium deposits and carbonates of various creatures like worms, barnacles and other minute organisms. This gives the impression of old, even ancient and something unique. An encrusted bottle served at the table will definitely elicit “ooohs” and “aaahs” and hopefully so will the taste. One thing’s for sure – it ain’t going to be cheap. Charlie’s waiting for the Jules Verne edition.

The idea of Undersea wine came from bottles salvaged from wrecks that tasters raved about. The Royal Mail Ship Rhone sank in 1867 in the Caribbean. Three years later a hard hat diver, Jeremiah Murphy, discovered the wine locker at a depth of 20 meters and brought up several bottles. He declared them to be as ‘good as new’ and happily consumed several bottles right then and there. (He may have been Irish). 

Even more impressive are the wines recovered from a Swedish freighter sunk in 1916. Divers discovered some 2.000 bottles of Heidsieck champagne some 80 years after the sinking of the vessel in the chilly waters of the Baltic Sea. Those lucky enough to sample the wine described it as being incredibly rich and complex, yet light-bodied, fresh and mellow. A taster commented that it was an elegant beverage with subtle toasty aromas with a hint of sweetness. Not a nose of barnyard or a drop of saline in sight… Some bottles sold to connoisseurs for thousands of dollars.

Back to luxury charter yachts in the Caribbean; here’s your chance. Select a couple of your favorite anchorages with wonderful sunset views. Buy several cases of reasonable champagne, place it in a crate and drop it down about 100-ft. Hide it in a cave or rock crevice and after a year you’ll have something unique for very special guests. 

And if you’re worried about its safety, tell Charlie where it’s hidden and he’ll keep an eye on it for you. 

Charlie has learned quite a bit about wine while researching this story. He likes the phrase coined by a leading expert – ‘Wine improves with age. The older I get the more I like it.

Julian_Putley
Julian Putley is the author of ‘The Drinking Man’s Guide to the BVI’, ‘Sunfun Calypso’, and ‘Sunfun Gospel’.