Storing Wine ~ A Novel Idea

A bottle of Muscadet aged for 2 years under the sea

by Ian Blackshaw

As a French wine buff, the underground chalk wine cellar in our fermette was the deciding factor when buying our French property. There was no contest, in fact!

Having built up a collection of good French wines, storing the wine is very important indeed as part of the maturing process. Wine badly stored is an abomination! For wine to age properly in the bottle, the wine needs to be out of the sunlight; in a place with a constant temperature and humidity; and lying on its side horizontally on wine racks – in other words, off the ground.

People without wine cellars, store their wine in a variety of places – in garages; under the stairs; and in cupboards, for example. And wine makers themselves, when they run out of cellar space, face the same question: where is the best place to store their wines?

Now an Italian wine maker, Pierluigi Lugano, who faced the same problem, has come up with a novel idea. He stores his surplus wine under the sea in stainless steel cages on the sea bed at a depth of some 200 feet off the Italian Riviera in the north western region of Liguria – some two miles off the town of Chiavari!

He claims that this method is particularly good for storing sparkling wines – much better, he says, than storing them traditionally in an underground cellar! If that is true, it is perhaps a pity that Champagne is a long way from the sea!

“The temperature is perfect, there’s no light, the water prevents even the slightest bit of air from getting in, and the constant pressure keeps the bubbles bubbly” Pierluigi explains.

An Oyster Bar at Larmor Baden, Brittany, where you can buy Muscadet in bottles which have been aged for two years under the sea.

The wine he keeps under the sea for three or four years; the first batch of his wine was put there in 2009 – generally a good vintage all round – and has just been raised and tasted!

Wine critics, in fact, have concurred with him and acclaimed the quality of his wines; so there must be some truth in storing wine under the sea.

Perhaps, Geoff Dobson, Frogsiders Science Correspondent, who is no mean wine connoisseur himself and an aficionado of sparkling wine, in particular, might like to comment on the science involved in storing wine under the sea!

Editor’s Comment

I bought a couple of bottles of Muscadet Sur Lie which had been matured for two years under the sea, when I was on a sailing holiday in Brittany last May.  It was claimed that the very steady temperature of the water, and the lack of any sudden changes in temperature or light, had been found to give the wine a smoother rounder character.  My crew and I drank one bottle there and then, and were rather easily convinced.  I brought another bottle home with me and still have it in the cellar.

I can supply any interested reader with the telephone number of the shop in Brittany where it can be bought.

Comments on wine storage in the sea – the scientific perspective, from Dr. Geoffrey Dobson

The sea heats up and cools down far less than the land, also as you get deeper there is far less light. Once you get down to about 600 feet deep there is virtually no light at all and the temperature at any given depth is relatively constant throughout the year. At European latitudes it stays between about 15°C and 10°C at 600 feet dropping to about 5°C at 1500 feet deep. The light falls off as you go deeper until at about 600 feet it is completely dark.

At 200 feet where he is storing his wine the temperature is likely to vary between 10°C and 18°C winter to summer. There will only be about one third of normal light (a bit like a house with heavy curtains drawn).

Wine experts recommend that the optimal temperature for storing wine is between 13°C and 15°C. It would seem that at 200 feet the temperature may vary a bit more than ideal. I don’t know if he has actually measured the temperatures but it seems from his results that any variation is quite acceptable.

He needs to be careful about the pressure on the bottles.  At 200 feet the pressure on the bottles is almost 7 atmospheres.  They could implode if there are any flaws