I t would be easy, and perhaps obvious, to describe this extraordinary collection of Europe’s greatest wines as a Lifetime Experience, an indisputably stunning array of winemaking brilliance. However, for me, the person who bought it, cared for it and shared it with the utmost generosity almost overshadows it! Over many decades, I have enjoyed his company, his views and impressions of wine and meals of gastronomic delight, humour and far-reaching discussions. This enhances in a very significant way the sheer pleasure of drinking remarkable bottles. We have met and exchanged information, not to mention gossip, in different countries at diverse events. This is someone who is always curious and therefore stimulating, the perfect companion at renowned wine gatherings, or dinners à quatre. It is why, having unearthed the other night a bottle of Chambolle Musigny Charmes 1934 from the original Doctor Barolet collection, we wished this wine connoisseur 'par excellence' had been with us – he has probably drunk it anyway! We have certainly shared some war-time DRCs together, but then we have revelled in many of the greatest Bordeaux and Burgundy vintages, mostly praising them to the skies but never afraid to express a dissenting opinion if called for. This is why real wine friendships are of such value.
This wine lover has another aspect to him and that is the ability to make lasting relationships with some of the finest wine producers, undoubtedly based on strong mutual respect. Regular visits to vineyards and cellars, assessment of vintages, crus and terroirs, study of winemaking methods and changes with the generations, these have all contributed to deep knowledge and assessment of a wine’s intrinsic quality. Tastes and individual preferences are formed like this and the astute and perceptive wine buying that followed is a reflection of what this great ‘amateur de vin’ loves in a wine. He is passionate about the subject and this shows in this unique auction. The sole reason for its appearance on the market is the matter of cellar overcrowding.
How does one approach a collection like this? Potential buyers will all have their favourites, but this is also an amazing opportunity to widen horizons, to compare growers, châteaux, vintages and epochs. The consignor bought these wines because he loved them, their character, individuality and glittering personality. How does one begin? In Burgundy, there is clearly lifelong fidelity to Jayer, Coche Dury, Ramonet, DRC, Jadot, Lafon, Leroy and Méo Camuzet, with forays into Clos des Lambrays and Roumier amongst others. White and red, Grands Crus and Premiers Crus, jostle for position and the span of vintages will teach you everything you want to know about maturity and youth, climate variations and evolving styles. May the learning process always be as pleasurable!
Crossing over France to Bordeaux, perhaps Pomerol reigns supreme, with Petrus, Trotanoy and Lafleur stars in the firmament – one risks hyper-ventilating at the vintages of Petrus. On the other side of the Gironde, Mouton Rothschild is a standout in this collection, with more risks to one’s breathing when contemplating the vintages and the formats. The First Growths and the Super Seconds are here in abundance and the years are historic.
The historic aspect is also formidable in the form of Château Yquem. A very strong friendship exists between the owner of these wines and the former proprietor of Yquem, Comte Alexandre de Lur Saluces and this offering gives a fabulous overview of Sauternes’ most sensational wine, with its eternal depth and mystery. And there are stunning comparisons here with Barsac’s beauty, Château Climens, another wine for which I have an ill-disguised passion.
I share this collector’s love for the wines of Alsace, headed by Trimbach’s tremendous Clos Sainte Hune – plus treasures from Hugel. In the Rhône, there are epic Hermitage La Chapelle vintages, signalling another friendship with the former owning family.
I can only be drawn away from France by the mega-exciting range of Vega Sicilia Unico, in both bottles and magnums. I find Unico one of the most intoxicating (in the nicest possible way….) wines on the planet, its layers always riveting and profound, and this is a wide selection, together with some wonderful Valbuena vintages. And, as a true European, our consignor also embraced the best of Italy, notably Gaja’s finest, Giacomo Conterno, Giuseppe Mascarello, Soldera and Sassicaia, many in welcoming large format.
There are nuggets of liquid gold throughout this catalogue that has been both a privilege and an honour to prepare and present. It is a sale that is so full of vinous legends that you can be dazzled and overlook almost secret treasures, an auction where one has to warn, Blink and you miss it! Think birthdays, anniversaries and occasions when there is something to celebrate – we have all become adept at creating those!
This is, without doubt, a landmark collection from the cellar of a wine lover who represents the finest of the genre. Wine producers make their wines for people like this, who appreciate them, nurture them and pour them. Now, many others can enter this cellar and delight in its contents.