Bordeaux's Chateau Larrivet Haut-Brion has experimented with ageing one barrel of its 2009 wine partially submerged in the sea.
The barrel was sunk among the oyster parks of Cap Ferret, on the Atlantic coast, said the chateau, which is based in the Pessac Leognan region of Bordeaux.
Bruno Lemoine, director and winemaker of Larrivet Haut-Brion, told Decanter.com that the idea came from a conversation among friends, who each played a part in the experiment. Lemoine provided the wine, oyster farmer Joel Dupuch provided the seabed space and barrel maker Pierre-Guillaume Chiberry, of Radoux, created a 56-litre barrel.
‘We often hear about wines aged at sea being better quality, so I wanted to see what happened,’ said Lemoine, referring to wines transported long distances by sea prior to the 20th Century and said to taste better on arrival.
For Larrivet Haut-Brion’s experiment, two identically-sized barrels were filled with 2009 wine and given an extra six months of ageing compared to the rest of the vintage, which was bottled at the usual time in June 2011. One of the extra barrels was left to age at the chateau, and the other covered with a cement case and tied to the oyster beds of Cap Ferret.
After bottling both barrels in January, the chateau organised tastings by wine consultant Michel Rolland, along with the team at the estate and a small group of journalists.
‘The [sea barrel] was better than it should have been,’ said French wine critic Bernard Burtschy. ‘It was softer, with greater complexity than its land-locked cousin.’ Laboratory analysis revealed the wine from the sea had softer tannins and slightly lower alcohol. Saline levels had also slightly risen.
The results have only aroused more curiosity in Lemoine. ‘We will try it again in slightly different conditions, and with different vintages,’ he said.
Written by Jane Anson in Bordeaux