What does 170-year-old champagne taste like?

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In 2010, divers recovered a trove of untouched champagne in a Baltic Sea shipwreck. Thanks to branding on the corks of the bottles, researchers traced the bubbly back to the champagne houses of Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin, Heidsieck, and Juglar, estimating that they had been corked in the 1830s or 1840s. The watery resting place 50 meters below the surface provided near perfect aging conditions: cold, stable temperatures and complete darkness. Now, scientists have studied the sparkling wine's chemical composition and performed aroma and taste analyses to reveal details about the champagne-making process in times past. Tasters described the aroma of the champagne—likely the oldest ever imbibed—as spicy, smoky, and leathery, the researchers report online today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. At 9% alcohol by volume, it was significantly less alcoholic than the modern version, which contains about 12% alcohol, likely due to a less efficient fermentation process. The researchers also found traces of chemicals from wood, suggesting that the champagne was fermented in barrels. Nuclear magnetic resonance measurements indicated that the bubbly, which was more sugary than the modern version, had likely been sweetened with grape syrup. The champagne had low levels of acetic acid, a marker of spoiled wine, indicating that it was well preserved. But the aged drink had lost much of its fizz, containing much less carbon dioxide than modern champagne, likely because it had diffused out through the cork during its centuries under the sea.

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