They say a good wine matures with age. But does champagne lose its sparkle after nearly two centuries under water?
An expert who tasted the vintage bubbly billed as the world's oldest drinkable champagne was lyrical on Wednesday, detecting hints of chanterelles and linden blossom.
An Associated Press reporter, who also sampled a bottle, found only a slight fizz and flavors of yeast and honey. The champagne - of the brands Veuve Clicquot and the now defunct Juglar - was recovered from a shipwreck discovered in July near the Aland Islands, between Sweden and Finland.
A total of 168 bottles were raised in the salvage operation, officials of the semiautonomous Finnish archipelago told reporters on Wednesday.
"All bottles are not intact but the majority are in good condition," said Britt Lundeberg, Aland's culture minister. The divers originally said the bottles were believed to be from the 1780s but experts later dated the champagne to the early 19th century. The exact years have not been established.
French champagne house Perrier-Jouet, a subsidiary of Pernod Ricard, has earlier stated that their vintage from 1825 is the oldest recorded champagne still in existence.
After a presentation of the diving operation, an archaeologist wearing white gloves presented one bottle of Juglar and another of Veuve Clicquot to expert Richard Juhlin, who sampled both in front of scores of journalists.
"Great! Wonderful!" he exclaimed. Then he paused. "I think what strikes you the most is that it's such an intense aroma," he continued. "It's so different from anything you've tasted before."
About 20 other people, including an AP reporter, were also given a chance to sample one of the two bottles. The AP got three mouthfuls of Juglar, a cloudy yellow liquid with tiny pieces of cork and just a few bubbles.
The dominant flavors were yeast and mushrooms, with sweet undertones of honey.
Veuve Clicquot confirmed that experts analyzing the branding of the corks "were able to identify with absolute certainty" that at least three of the recovered bottles were Veuve Clicquot. The champagne house, founded in 1772, said the branding featured a comet, added to pay tribute to one that crossed the skies of Champagne in 1811 "and was rumored to be the cause of a harvest of remarkable quality."
Francois Hautekeur, of Veuve Clicquot's winemaking team, described the champagne as "a toasted, zesty nose with hints of coffee, and a very agreeable taste with accents of flowers and lime-tree."
Juhlin found it Chardonnay-like.
"Surprisingly for me the Veuve Clicquot has a lot of green notes," he said. "Among the strongest are linden blossoms and lime peels."
Some of the bottles will be sold at an auction, where Juhlin said they could fetch more than $70,000 apiece.