Wine of the Deep Dark Sea

Aug 2016

Submerged wine aging has become a bit of a trend. Winemakers all over the world are experimenting with the idea, some personalizing it with their own concepts: submerged metal cages, ceramic amphora around each bottle, cement-lined barrels. Others just submerge the wines in giant vats kept on land. One innovative fellow is so enamored with the outcome that he is selling deep-sea wine storage space. While the process, however implemented, has its challenges, everyone agrees that the result, even if not yet scientifically proven, is deliciously intriguing. And nowhere does it make more sense to engage the sea in the aging of wine than in Santorini.

All Greeks have a special connection with the sea. It is part of their DNA. Yiannis Paraskevopoulos, co-owner of and winemaker for Gaia Wines, is no exception. Gaia’s Assyrtiko is named Thalassitis (“originating from the sea”), perhaps because the winery sits right on the beach. Or maybe it is because of an old Greek wine called Thalassitis Oenos. Back then it was common to mix wine with sea water. Yiannis obviously does not add sea water to his wine, but he found the idea of aging Thalassitis in the sea interesting. In fact, the whole situation seemed to be providence.

The idea makes a lot of sense: It is dark in the bottom of the sea, the temperatures are consistently cool, pressure is stable and there is no oxygen—ideal for aging wine. The first batch to go down was 450 bottles of the 2009 vintage that had spent one year in bottle. They submerged it at 25 meters (82 feet) and waited five years, believing this would deliver the best expression of whatever the sea was going to give them. During this time Yiannis regularly checked on it. However, in 2015, when the time came to collect their sunken treasure, a big storm scattered the bottles. They had to dive eight times until they finally found the wine. And, it seemed, Poseidon had levied a pleasure tax on their adventure: Only three bottles remained intact. But it was enough to taste it and know they had to do it again!

Wines found in sunken ships have demonstrated that the sea provides an ideal environment for aging. The people submerging wines intentionally today are paying close attention to the results. Yiannis finds that the sea-aged Assyrtiko “retains the vibrant freshness of a young Santorini with absolutely no oxidative qualities.” It is as if time stopped and the natural evolution of the wine and its complexity continued without the sherry-like qualities we usually associate with an aged white.

Mind you, Yiannis is a scientist. He has a PhD in enology. He likes to have proof, and so far laboratory analysis is unable to support the obvious reasons behind the underwater aging outcome. For now, what we can say for sure is that Yiannis and his winemaking colleagues around the world are submerging wine for the love of their craft and the adventure of it.

Currently, Thalassitis 2011 is under the protection of “the Guardian,” a moray eel that has made her home in this castle of wine bottles, and she fiercely protects it. Poseidon beware.

*Many thanks to Yiannis Paraskevopoulos, Gaia Wines, for the use of his video below.

Wine of the Deep Dark Sea | Terroir Talking