The Champagne Drappier taste test: Does underwater ageing improve champagne?

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Drinks: Champagne, Drinks

Ever wondered what the ideal conditions might be for ageing wine? Champagne Drappier has gone to extreme lengths to find out. This week, its president Michel Drappier was in London to present Immersion, the house’s range of wines aged under the sea.

The purpose of the experiment was to find the perfect environment for achieving complexity and texture when compared to traditional cellar ageing. 

‘It all started about 20 years ago,’ Drappier explained. ‘First I thought to age wines at high altitude to make the most of consistent, cool temperatures, but it didn’t work as we were losing lots of bubbles because of the high pressure.’

Instead, Drappier submerged a limited number of bottles of its Carte d’Or Brut NV, Brut Nature Zéro Dosage NV and Grande Sendrée Brut 2008 off the bay of Saint-Malo in Brittany for three years.

Maturing wine underwater does not offer the same temperature stability – especially the bay of Saint-Malo, heavily affected by tides – but the outside pressure is lower than inside the bottles. Furthermore, the gentle rocking and rolling due to currents has a strong effect on the speed and quality of maturation.

Imbibe tasted the range in comparison with cellar-aged bottles from the same batches.

The two wines with higher dosage – Carte d’Or Brut NV and Grande Sendrée Brut 2008 – appeared to show more markedly divergent flavour profiles and textures compared to their counterparts matured on land. However, the undersea- and cellar-aged Brut Nature Zéro Dosage NV displayed little, if no differences.

The Carte d’Or Brut NV, with its higher dosage of 6g/litre, was the most affected by undersea ageing, with a nose verging more towards toast and bread than the expected fresher aromas of ripe apples, pear and bread crust found on the cellar-aged version.

The Grande Sendrée Brut 2008, with a dosage of 4g/litre, also showed the influence of underwater ageing. It benefited greatly from its full body, which gifted the nose with a pleasant increased complexity of mushroom, earth, and truffles aromas, and a powerful, creamy palate with added shortbread and biscuit flavours.

The comparative tasting silenced any scepticism on the futility of the experiment and showed that underwater ageing does have an impact on the maturation of champagne. However, a speedy maturation is not necessarily beneficial to all champagne styles. Increased complexity is certainly to be pursued in full-bodied champagnes, such as vintage or prestige cuvées, but lighter styles such as NV champagne risk losing their freshness when yeast-derived aromas take centre stage.

The Champagne Drappier Immersion range is available from Berkmann Wine Cellars.

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