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Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Thalassitis 2009 - what 5 years of underwater aging does to a wine

A shot of the cage of 2009 Thalassitis

In 2010, Yiannis Paraskevopoulos of GAI'A Wines decided to undertake an experiment to see what the effects would be of aging their 100% Assyrtiko off the coast of Santorini for a period of 5 years.

In the past, divers have come upon wrecks and they have found sealed bottles of spirits in their midst.  In some cases, those bottles were opened and people were surprised at how lively those bottles still were.  In the case of wine, Yiannis wanted to know how a wine would age underwater based on three factors:

1. Low light conditions
2. Consistent temperatures around 65F
3. In an anaerobic environment

With the help of a few friends and associates, a metal cage with about 480 bottles of Thalassitis 2009 were towed out to a predetermined spot off the coast of Santorini.  In about 60 feet of water, the cage was submerged.  Each year since then, the last 450 or so bottles of each vintage of Thalassitis have been submerged in the same fashion off the coast of Santorini.

In September of 2014, a group of us returned to the island to surface the 2009 Thalassitis.  In the beginning, we were not sure if we were going to be able to do it - in 2010, a massive storm bit the island and apparently was so powerful that even at 60 feet down, the cage moved close to 200 feet from its original resting place!  It too Yiannis several dives to locate the cage.

The video link you see chronicles the day we went to surface the wine. http://youtu.be/uCBH5G2k_6I.  As the video explains, we were able to salvage only 3 bottles of the 450 that were originally submerged - goes to show you how powerful the storm really was! The rest of the bottles were broken in the cage - I'm still amazed that 3 survived.

The next night we opened one of the bottles - it was fascinating.  Color-wise, the wine had only become a slightly deeper yellow than a fresh wine.  Additionally, Thalassitis (any many Santorini Assyrtikos) tend to develop petrol aromas after a few years - this bottle didn't have any of that.

It was surprising to me that the wine was as youthful and vibrant as it was.  As I said on the video, if you would have given me that wine to taste blind, I would not have been able to tell you that was an Assyrtiko 2009.

At the end of the day, even though only 3 bottles were salvaged, the overall experiment was a success.  The 2013 vintage was submerged as well.  In September of 2015, we will return to Santorini to surface the 2010 vintage (don't worry - it's cage has been located and is intact).  Hopefully if all goes well, the winery will decide to release some bottles for sale - we will need to wait until next September for that!

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