In the late 1990s, a group of professional divers recovered a consignment of Heidsieck champagne bottles, vintage 1907, which had spent more than a century inside the hold of a schooner that had sunk in the Baltic Sea on its way to Russia.
Twenty of these bottles were sold at Christie’s, London. What was most surprising is that in a previous tasting, some lucky participants found that the champagne was suitable for consumption and incredibly fresh for its age, with a golden straw color, bubbly and in good condition.
The experts said the taste evoked ripe apples and quince, with an unexpected floral touch. It seems that the cold waters of the sea—and the dark environment—kept the champagne in optimum shape and preserved its organoleptic properties.
A similar case happened when the famous firm Moet & Chandon celebrated the millennium with a gorgeous blend of some of their best vintages of the 20th century and placed them in 323 magnum bottles (1.5 liters each), under the moniker L’Esprit du Siècle.
Most of those bottles were dedicated to the Maison’s most elegant events, and some even sold at very high prices—around €18,000 (almost $20,000) each. According to connoisseurs, the taste of the masterful elixir was much like touching the sky with your hands.
These two cases are a powerful reminder of how time can create truly exceptional champagne.
Currently, some of the best French labels have a list of very old champagnes intended for exclusive and knowledgeable clients who do not mind paying exorbitant prices.
If you wish to acquire any of these precious bottles, you should keep in mind that the inventory is very limited, as champagne producers guard these reserves very carefully and sell them only to a few chosen clients. Also, since they are very rare, there are not specialty stores where you can buy them.
Finding an old bottle of Bollinger, Krug, Louis Roederer or Taittinger is a personal exploration that you will enjoy visiting and researching shops and wine bars.
If you find one, enjoy it or keep it, because it will become quite an investment and the pride of your private cellar over time.
If stored in a dark, cool and wet environment, champagne that some could dismiss out of ignorance can continue to mature in the bottle for decades and eventually become a distinctive object of desire. ■