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An Argument Against Aging Wine

Aging wine is something people hear but never understand. Does it turn to vinegar? Does it make it better? Unless you’re a serious collector, aging isn’t something you should think about as most of the wine you buy is most likely for the purpose of drinking. And, as news out of North Carolina is showing, age doesn’t always make for a better wine.

It was a fascinating discovery: a bottle of wine from 150 years ago found in the Mary-Celestia, a ship that wrecked off of Bermuda in 1864. The boat was delivering supplies to the Confederacy when it hit a reef and sank. In 2011 divers found several bottles of wine, perfume, clothing and accessories including pearl buttons. The wine, of course, made a stir in the wine world.

At a Charleston food festival one of the bottles was ceremoniously uncorked as the panel and onlookers excitedly looked on. The liquid, which may have been a Spanish port, was a gray color not ordinarily found in wine. A sample pulled from the cork stated it was 37% alcohol but the sommeliers were disappointed, to say the least, in the taste.

The nose was salty with notes of camphor (think menthol) and crab and the taste has been described using tasting notes like gasoline, turpentine, crab, salt water, and hints of citrus.

Despite the taste, all were excited to be in the presence of such an old, unopened wine. The bottle must have been compromised while under water leading to a significant amount of the contents being saltwater.

It wasn’t just the panel who got a sip – about 50 guests purchased tickets to the event that allowed for a tasting of the Civil War era wine. According to master sommelier, Paul Roberts, shipwreck wine can be excellent – so for many it was worth the gamble to buy the tickets. Whether or not it tasted like crab water and vinegar, there was something to be said about sharing such an old bottle.

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