By Mike Pomranz
Updated April 23, 2015
© SoloStock Conceptual / Alamy

Many great wines get better with age. But researchers just took that idea to the extreme after unearthing some 170-year-old bottles of Champagne.

Remarkably, the bottles found at the bottom of the ocean are from names you might still recognize today: Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin, Heidsieck and Juglar. The researchers, led by Philippe Jeandet, a professor at the Faculty of Science at the University of Reims in the Champagne region of France, cracked open three of the bottles for chemical analysis and, yes, tasting.

Chemical analysis highlighted many of the differences in production between the 19th century and today. For one, the bottles contained three times more sugar than modern Champagne, which researchers said was to be expected, as 19th century drinkers preferred sweeter wines. The Champagne was also lower in alcohol, at just 9 percent—modern Champagne comes in at over 12 percent. One unexpected discovery was a high level of iron and copper attributed to the way vines used to be protected and the type of barrels that were used during fermentation.

The good news: Despite the bottles losing most of their carbonation, analysis revealed very low levels of acetic acid. The presence of acetic acid can indicate a spoiled bottle. That means it’s time to move on to the tasting.

Like anything that’s been sitting stagnant for a while, tasters seemed a bit worried upon first opening. “At first, the Baltic samples were described using terms such as ‘animal notes,’ ‘wet hair,’ ‘reduction’ and sometimes ‘cheesy,’” according to the report published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science. But after a bit of coaxing, the Champagne apparently opened up quite nicely: “Upon swirling the wine in the glass to oxygenate it, the aroma became far more pleasant, with the main aromas described as empyreumatic, grilled, spicy, smoky and leathery, together with fruity and floral notes.”

And you too can experience a taste of history, but you'd better bring your wallet. And your checkbook. And your credit card. The remaining unopened bottles are expected to fetch tens of thousands of dollars each at auction.