Aging wine and spirits on and around the water has become something of a Thing lately, with operations like Jefferson’s sending whiskey around the world on ocean voyages and Maison Ferrand aging Cognac on a barge in the Seine.
Wine of the Sea is something very different. A Wisconsin wine importing company called the BZ Consortium takes finished wines, seals them with a special cork and two layers of wax, and dunks the wines, bottles and all, into the Adriatic Sea, 100 feet down, off the Croatian coast.
Why would you do this? BZ says there’s no light, the cold temperatures are ideal for aging — and accelerated under the high pressure of the water. Wave motion helps “force molecular breakdown for a constant smoothing of the wine.” Each bottle is submerged for one to two years — after which they are retrieved, covered in a layer of coral that is both striking and messy, as it’s not removed before the wine reaches the consumer.
It’s a real WTF experience — something against which I have absolutely no basis for comparison in more than 20 years of writing about wine and spirits. But it turns out BZ isn’t the first company to do this — and in fact the FDA outlawed the importation of sea-aged wine about 10 years ago after another company tried the same thing with wine aged in Charleston Harbor, citing a risk of contaminants entering the bottles. After more than two years of correspondence, the FDA granted BZ a “letter of no objection,” which left the larger ban in place but opened the door for Wine of the Sea to finally hit the U.S. market.
It’s important to note that BZ and its Croatian partners do not make wine: They source them, already bottled, and age them further. Right now it has about 15 different labels on the market, but the company is only just getting started with distribution.
We received two bottles from the collection from Italy’s Villa Canestrari — each comes with a full page of instructions on how to open the bottles, decanting advice (at least an hour to ward off the funk of the sea, because “the wines might smell like old cheese at the start”), and keeping crud out of your wine. Opening the wine is definitely an ordeal, so take your time.
Some thoughts follow.
2017 Wine of the Sea Villa Canestrari Soave Superiore – Old cheese, yeah, a little. The wine definitely needs that hour of decanting to show its best and blow off some of the funk driven by a lack of oxygen during aging, at which point things become lovely. Fresh lemon curd and guava notes are balanced by ample salinity, though the creamy body evokes custard, with a lightly nutty character building later in the game. There’s some reductiveness in the mix, even after decanting, but a little warmth helps the wine’s charms to further evolve. The sharp, almost peppery note on the finish is a particular delight. A / $159
2018 Wine of the Sea Villa Canestrari Amarone DOCG – This one’s less successful, a beefy, chewy wine that doesn’t really feel like Amarone to me at all. I let this aerate for over two hours and still found it tired on the palate, rolling in turned earth with relatively mild notes of anise and a surprisingly flabby finish. Aggressive aeration evokes some blueberry and plum notes, as well as some eventual black pepper, but it all feels just a bit stewed, which is ironic considering the freezing cold environment in which it was aged. Not bad, but unmemorable in comparison to the Soave. B- / $199