VIDEO: 150-year-old shipwreck wine a disappointment at festival

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A bottle of wine that was recovered from the 1864 wreck of the Civil War blockade-runner Mary-Celestia was recently opened and sampled by sommeliers at a wine festival, who came away underwhelmed.

Shipwreck wine

Reviews at the Charleston Wine + Food Festival in South Carolina included the descriptive terms “sulfur bouquet with distinct notes of saltwater and gasoline” and “a mixture of day-old crab water with hints of citrus and alcohol.”

At least it was good for a laugh for the audience at the March 6 event.

The bottle was one of five discovered on the wreckage of the Mary-Celestia in 2011. The ship sank off Bermuda in 1864 on her way to try to break the Union blockade of the Confederacy.

The excavation of the Mary-Celestia is being filmed by LookBermuda / LookFilms for a documentary to be aired on PBS stations this spring.

The sinking of the sidewheel steamship has always been shrouded in mystery. A local pilot ran her onto a reef on the south shore of Bermuda. Although foul play was suspected at the time and an inquiry into the pilot’s action was sought, the sinking has long been accepted as a tragic accident.

However, further study of the sinking has unearthed more questions than answers, according to the documentary filmmakers, who will explore the political and economic climate of the time to try to identify who might have had the means and the motive to deliberately sink the Mary-Celestia.

As for the recovered wine, it was not a foregone conclusion that it would fare so poorly.

“I’ve had shipwreck wines before. They can be great,” master sommelier Paul Roberts told BerNews.com.

Despite attempts to say the nose contained “hints of citrus,” Pierre Louis Teissedre, a wine chemist from the University of Bordeaux, summed it up as a mix of “camphor, stagnant water, hydrocarbons, turpentine and sulphur.”

His analysis showed that it was also 37 percent alcohol, so it’s possible that it was, in fact, once a brandy or other spirit, according to TheDrinksBusiness.com, which is Europe’s leading drinks trade publication.

Shipwrecked wines can be drinkable, as proved by a champagne discovered in the Baltic in 2010, 79 bottles of which are still judged “drinkable,” and two six-bottle lots of salvaged Gruaud-Larose, believed to be from 1865 or 1869, which were sold for about $7,500 apiece at auction in 2013, according to the publication.

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