Researchers in Bordeaux are analysing a dozen of bottles of French wine and snippets of grapevines which have returned to Earth after spending a year at the International Space Station.
The purpose of the space mission was part of a long-term effort to make plants on Earth more resilient to climate change and disease by exposing them to new stresses, and to better understand the ageing process, fermentation and bubbles in wine.
At a one-of-a-kind tasting, 12 connoisseurs sampled one of the space-travelled wines, blindly tasting the 5,000 euro (£4,312) bottle of Chateau Petrus Pomerol, alongside a bottle from the same vintage that had stayed in a cellar.
“I have tears in my eyes,” said Nicolas Gaume, CEO and co-founder of the company that arranged the experiment, Space Cargo Unlimited, as the bottles were carefully uncorked at the Institute for Wine and Vine Research in Bordeaux.
“When you expose wine, when you expose cells, plants to an environment without gravity… we create tremendous stress on any living species,” he said.
Jane Anson, a wine expert and writer for The Decanter, said the wine that remained on Earth tasted “a little younger than the one that had been to space”.
Chemical and biological analysis of the wine’s ageing process could allow scientists to find a way to artificially age fine vintages, said Dr Michael Lebert, a biologist at Germany’s Friedrich-Alexander-University.
Hundreds of snippets of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon grapevines not only all survived the journey but also grew faster than vines on Earth, despite limited light and water, but it’s too early for the researchers to determine why.
Dr Lebert said it could help scientists develop sturdier vines on Earth – and pave the way for grape-growing and wine-making in space.
Plus, he said, “Grapes…are very healthy for the astronauts.”
But what did cosmic wine taste like?
“For me, the difference between the space and the earth wine… it wasn’t easy to define,” said Franck Dubourdieu, a Bordeaux-based agronomist and oenologist, an expert in the study of wine and wine-making.
Researchers said each of the 12 panellists had an individual reaction.
Experts said the wine tasted like rose petals, smelled like a campfire or cured leather, and glistened with a “burnt-orange hue”.
“The one that had remained on Earth, for me, was still a bit more closed, a bit more tannic, a bit younger. And the one that had been up into space, the tannins had softened, the side of more floral aromatics came out,” Ms Anson said.
But whether the vintage was space-flying or earthbound, she said, “They were both beautiful.”