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Ancient Veuve Clicquot ‘not to be drunk for pleasure’

The 170-year-old Veuve Clicquot expected to fetch a five-figure sum at auction next week can only be recommended for ‘historical interest, not pleasure,’ Champagne expert Tom Sevenson says.

The bottle is part of a cache found in 2010 in the Åland archipelago between Finland and Sweden, in a wrecked schooner dating from 1825-30.

Four bottles of Veuve Clicquot, six bottles from the now-defunct Champagne house Juglar, and one Heidsieck & Co go under the hammer at Mariehamn on 8 June.

Stevenson, who tasted the Veuve Clicquot along with wine journalists and Veuve Clicquot’s chef de cave Dominique Demarville, said it ‘reeked of horse manure’.

‘It is a privilege, of course, to taste any wine that was bottled a decade before the Charge of the Light Brigade and the American Civil War, and it was amazing to see that such a wine could have the colour and fruit of nothing much older than a 20-year-old Champagne, but I cannot tell a lie: even the palate was laced with the stench of horse manure.’

Stevenson, Champagne regional chair at the Decanter World Wine Awards, said the palate was ‘distinctly sweet, with more orchard fruits than citrus, and a perfect balance of acidity…I was struck by [its] youthful simplicity.’

But, he said, he could not recommend it as anything but a historical curiosity. He stressed he had only tasted one bottle of the 11 up for auction.

‘[It] can only be recommended for historical interest, not pleasure. I expect there will be many people who will want a taste of history; I don’t blame them, I certainly wanted to taste this wine and it is at least drinkable in the sense that it is not harmful.

‘However, potential bidders should be under no illusion as to what these Champagnes smell like.’

Empty glasses, Stevenson added, ‘continued to stink for a long while’.

‘My advice to anyone with a bottle would be to decant it a couple of hours in advance and be prepared to leave it for 24 hours if necessary.’

Richard Juhlin of auctioneers Artcurial, in charge of the 8 June sale, said he preferred to call the smell ‘cheese’ or, more specifically, ‘brie de meaux’; in the auction catalogue he describes the aromas as ‘floral and citrus’.

Demarville agreed the aroma was strong and was certainly due to reduction. ‘We will work with the University of Reims to identify some of the specific aromas. The aroma for me is of wild animal mixed with milky and seared toffee, behind which we find chestnut, honey and polish.’

He added, ‘The palate is for me the greatest news, with its sweetness perfectly integrated, and an acidity that is still clean and dynamic. Even if the first taste is not the best, the Baltic wines are an incredible experience.’

The auction, Aland’s Champagne Rendezvous, takes place in Mariehamn on 8 June. Each of the 11 bottles has an estimate of €10,000 to €15,000.

Written by Adam Lechmere

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