The winning bid was made via Internet to an unnamed European trade buyer, so it will be hard to wangle an invitation for the day the bottle is opened, assuming it isn’t just stored for another 100-200 years.
Just in case, here’s the per glass price: CHF5,287 for a one decilitre glass, something to keep in mind as the glass is raised.
Make that CHF529 per sip, if you work out 10 small sips to the deci. Here’s what you should get, according to Christie’s: “No label. Registered in the cellar book of Pierre Millet since 1774. Superb lightly ambered colour. Shrunk and fragile cork.” Also see my earlier article on this bottle.
I joined the bidders Tuesday in the lush auction room at Hotel des Bergues, but I didn’t carry a bidding card. There were only about 20 of us, with a bank of staff taking online and telephone bids.
I almost regretted my common sense in not picking up a card, as some of the wines were almost affordable. I briefly toyed with the idea of bidding on 15 lesser bottles of 1988 Bordeaux, with the group to be had for under CHF1,000, a steal compared to the winning bids my auction seat neighbour, an elegant blond gentleman, was paying for his numerous Château Lafite-Rothschilds.
Here’s what I would have bid on, thinking it was maybe in my budget: Château Pavie, vintage 1988 with levels of 8 base of neck and 1 top of shoulder. Château Cos d’Estournel, vintage 1988, three into neck and one base of neck. Château Ducru Beaucaillou, vintage 1988, 2 with levels base of neck.
The lot was estimated at CHF700-900. The level of the bottle matters when you’re calculating the price per sip. The condition of burgundies suffers less than Bordeaux wines from what is known as the change in “ullage”, or the space that isn’t filled (vindange in French) of a bottle over time.
My neighbour had a classier look than the retailers who also bid in Geneva to fill gaps in their store holdings. He was several levels upmarket from my fantasy budget.
A quiet lift of his card and the first Lafite-Rothschild, vintage 1982, went his way. A bit tatty, with a torn label and top-shoulder, but he got a deal: CHF2,400 for the one bottle, when the pre-sale estimate was CHF2,800-3,400. Nice.
Then he went on a roll, first with 12 bottles of Mouton-Rothschild 1988 for CHF3,000, then Lafite-Rothschild 2002, 6 magnums for CHF6,500 and 12 bottles for CHF7,000. Another CHF19,000 on 12bottles and 6 magnums of the 2003. After that I lost track of what he was spending. I decided it was too much for one man’s cellar, so he is probably a buyer who resells to private and corporate customers who feel safe getting big-name wines from him.
The most impressive sale of the day was a lot of 1945 Mouton-Rothschild that went for 2.5 times its estimated value: CHF161,000 rather than the pre-sale starting figure of CHF65,000.
An alternative, if we’re looking for expensive sips, is the 1921 Château Y’quem that went for a mere CHF25,300 for 3 bottles, which makes a sip about half the price of that of the 1774 vin jaune. Two of the bottles were recorked at the chateau in 1989 and the other in 1992.
Here is just part of the description from Michael Broadbent in 2006:
“Very pronounced warm amber; bouquet of soft toasted demarara sugar and coffee; medium-sweet, dry finish. Glorious. Most recently, probably the best-ever.” He then describes its beautiful appearance and returns to the aromas: “Its bouquet both easy and, in truth, difficult to do justice to; the anticipated crème brulé, old apricots, honeyed, whiff of caramel and unplumbable depth medium-sweet, drying out a little after 85 years, gloriously rich, intense and persistent flavour, perfecct sustaining acidity and lingering aftertaste. Sheer perfection.”
I do hope someone opens it and enjoys it soon.
Note: Christie’s in 2010 published an account of a day in the life of Michael Ganne, wine auctioneer, inspecting the wine cellar of a connaisseur in canton Valais, great fun to read.