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.
My cellar does not hold a Chateau Pétrus but for one minute 18 November, before a 1982 magnum of the stuff was auctioned off at Christie’s in Geneva for CHF10,350, I tried to imagine it in my cellar. It added a bit of slightly jaded but elegant touch of age to the place, with the wine’s memories of the world before the great financial crisis, vintage 2008.
For another minute I wondered what it would take to turn me from someone who loves to drink good wine to someone who collects fine wines. I had just finished reading a novel that should have answered the question, but it didn’t.
If you haven’t yet read The Irresistable Inheritance of Wilberforce by Paul Torday, author of Salmon Fishing, it’s an excellent book and will teach you things you probably didn’t know about collecting wine, as well as about the human heart.
The people who could shed some light on the wine collecting urge are part of the group that spent CHF1.189 million for several wines at the Christie’s auction. A private collector bought the magnum, along with this cheering Christie’s description, balm in these dreary financial times, “This was a dazzling showing for this 1982, which has performed irregularly since birth. Although abundant tannin remains, the wine is sweet, smoky, and ideal for drinking now and over the next 20-25 years.”
I am actually more envious of the buyer who walked off with eight bottles of the 1970 vintage, whose description by Christie’s wine expert David Elswood sounds like a hommage to the kind of person we all want to be at age 38: “The 1970 Petrus has developed magnificently over the last 4-5 years. Tight and reserved early in life, it has blossomed into a true blockbuster. This massive, highly-extracted, full-bodied, jammy, thick, unctuously-textured wine possesses a huge, spice, tobacco, black-cherry, mocha-scented nose. It is a real turn-on. The wine is fully mature, but it has at least 20 years of life remaining.”
Price paid, CHF10,925, which makes it about CHF1 a drop, if there are 195 drops in a glass. It sounds like they should drink it before it leaps out of the glass at them.
And then there was the Château Mouton-Rothschild lot of 66 bottles, one for every year from 1940 to 2005. CHF86,250. But to me the most interesting thing about this was 1978, the only year where there were two bottles. What happened in 1978? Was the wine less appealing, was there a death in the family or was the extra bottle part of a celebratory spending spree?
The itch to collect is starting, but maybe it’s the stories behind the wines that some of us long for.