Ocean-aged wine surfaces in Orlando

Underwater nap: A bottle of wine aged in seawater, a process known as Aquaoir.
Underwater nap: A bottle of wine aged in seawater, a process known as Aquaoir. MCT

Central Florida is getting the first peek — and taste — of ocean-aged wine, a process that could revolutionize the industry.

California winemaker Gustavo Gonzalez is overseeing the 2-year-old project in which barrel-fermented cabernet sauvignon was bottled and then dropped in secure crates into the 60-foot-deep Charleston Harbor, an inlet of the Atlantic Ocean in South Carolina.

At a private dinner on Oct. 24, about two dozen guests at The Palm in Orlando sampled the wine, produced by Mira Winery. Gonzalez, who works for the Napa Valley winery, said the results of the experiment both please and fascinate him.

“The first wine we brought up was analyzed against the same vintage aged on land,” he said. “Chemically they were identical but there was a distinct difference in the wines’ taste and aroma. The submerged wine had aged nicely with well structured tannins.”

But a second collection showed a much younger character, “much like what you get from a young wine still in a barrel,” said Gonzalez.

Just as light and temperature can affect the taste of wine as it ages on land, Gonzalez is trying to get a handle on how the addition of water’s subtle motion and pressure can affect the aging of wine.

The concept of aging wine in water is rooted in a splash of headlines that raised eyebrows and intrigue around the world in 2010 when bottles of centuries-old champagne were salvaged from a Baltic Sea shipwreck. Several bottles were in remarkable condition for the style of sparkling wine popular at that time.

Distinguished French champagne house Veuve Clicquot, which had several bottles in the ship’s inventory, was impressed enough to begin experimenting with underwater aging in the cool Baltic. In addition to Mira Winery in the United States, Larrivet Haut-Brion in Bordeaux is exploring the sea floor as the new wine cave.

“We have trademarked a new name for the process,” said Gonzalez. “We call it ‘Aquaoir’ because it parallels the impacts of the industry-recognized term ‘terroir,’” which refers to the land-based environmental influences on vines and grapes.

“We still have not determined the dominant underwater factors that are impacting the wine but we know there is something there,” said Gonzalez. “If you can apply what we are learning to aging wine on land, it has the potential to revolutionize how an entire industry thinks about aging.”