Friday, July 27, 2007

'WWI spirits' dug up in Macedonia

A remote Macedonian mountain village is at the centre of a treasure hunt for bottles of what is thought to be vintage cognac from World War I.

Farmers in Gradesnica have unearthed what they say are cases of spirits from trenches once used by French soldiers.

Visitors from France have joined locals scouring the former battlefield in the hope of finding some of the liquor.

Valued at thousands of euros a bottle, it is said to have survived a German shell strike that killed many soldiers.

The first case of 15 bottles was reportedly unearthed by villagers in the south of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia about 15 years ago.

Several further batches, containing about 12 bottles each, are said to have been found in subsequent digs.


At least two cases were reportedly found by a sharp-eyed villager who noticed a glint in the ground.

The liquor could fetch at least 5,000 euros (£3,360) per bottle, according to Skopje University expert Mihail Petkov.

The professor of oenology said: "The villagers told me they have tasted a wonderful, delicious, very strong alcoholic beverage.

"I don't think wine would stay drinkable after 90 years so I think it's probably cognac, as its quality improves with age. People have been coming from France to look for it."

He explained that French wine-producers once had to pay a military tax, which they met by supplying wine and spirits directly to the army.

Stefan Kovacevski, 64, is one of the locals who has tasted the find.

He told the Associated Press news agency: "At first we were afraid to taste the dark, thick liquid. But this must be what people mean by the nectar of the gods."

In 1916, Gradesnica was at the heart of fighting during a drive by Allied forces to bolster Serbia and halt the advance of the Central Powers' troops.

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