Work to salvage around 70 bottles of two-century-old champagne found in a shipwreck at the bottom of the Baltic Sea has begun, an official of the autonomous Finnish Aaland islands said Tuesday.
"Taking everything into account it seems that we are currently salvaging the oldest champagne in the world," Rainer Juslin, the permanent secretary of the Aaland government's education and culture ministry, said in a statement.
"The bottles, which lie intact on the seabed at a depth of 50 metres (165 feet) are now being brought up to the surface," the government statement said, adding that each of the bottles was estimated to be worth tens of thousands of euros.
Last month Swedish divers working off Finland found the perfectly preserved bottles in what is believed to perhaps be part of a consignment sent by France's King Louis XVI to the Russian Imperial Court.
It remains unclear however exactly how old the champagne is.
Because the corks still retained a trace of an anchor logo, experts at first thought the champagne might have come from the historic Veuve-Clicquot estate, still one of the world's top brands of bubbly.
After inspecting and trying a sample of the perfectly preserved vintage, the firm however said at the beginning of August it was in fact from the now defunct Juglar house.
"After approximately 200 years on the seabed the contents of the bottles were extremely well preserved," the Aaland government said Tuesday.
"The constant temperature and light levels have provided optimal conditions for storage, and the pressure in the bottles has prevented any seawater from seeping in through the corks," it added.
Veuve-Clicquot's chief cellarman Dominique Demarville, one of a tiny number of people who has been allowed to taste a few millilitres of the find, estimated that the wine dated from the first third of the 19th century.
This means it is not clear whether it is the oldest champagne ever drunk, as an 1825 Perrier-Jouet was tasted by experts in London last year.
Aaland legally owns the contents of the wreck but has yet to determine what to do with the champagne.
The archipelago at the mouth of the Gulf of Bothnia belongs to Finland, though it enjoys autonomy from Helsinki and locals speak Swedish.