Every inspection is different, with its own unique quirks and hurdles to cross. Inspecting wine is a wonderful way to get an understanding of not only the provenance and condition of the wines, but to really get a feeling of the essence of the collector and the collection.
During a bitterly cold week in January, in the heart of the English country side, my colleagues – Paul Wong, Damian Tillson, Claire Collini, Caroline Shepherd and James Reed – and I undertook the inspection of the Philanthropist's Cellar. We knew what an extensive collection this was, but only when you stood next to all the cases did you get the sense of the magnitude and incredible of depth of some of Bordeaux’s legendary wines. It took the first morning to discuss exactly how to best tackle the opening and inspecting of more than 800 cases of wine, the majority in original cases: 25 cases of Cheval Blanc 1982 and 40 cases of Margaux 1982, to name but a few!
This was not an easy inspection; in fact, it was physically one of the toughest I have experienced. Given the maturity of the majority of the wines, great care had to be taken both in opening, inspecting and closing these gems. However this is where the complaining will stop! In all my years in the industry, I had not experienced first-hand a collection quite of this scale and condition. This was an absolute privilege and any wine lover's dream. I hope to inspect many more wonderful cellars in the future, but the bar has firmly been set!
Straight from the outset, I was literally giggling with excitement at each case I was about to inspect. First up was Le Pin 1990, an exceedingly rare wine wine with a mythical status, particularly in the original case. As I opened up this particular case, it soon dawned on me that this had not been opened before. After the wonderful feel of the nails relenting their grip as the wooden lid gently relaxed and cracked upwards, there sat twelve pristine bottles, still in original tissue wrap, untouched since they were placed in the case – an eye-opening start and a prelude of things to come. To top it off, this was followed by another three cases of the same wine and in the same stunning condition.
These first moments encapsulate this extraordinary inspection. Legendary wine after legendary wine, with each case feeling like you are opening Tutankhamun's tomb! With these ideal cold and damp cellaring conditions, there were many delicate, fragile and damaged labels where soft hands were needed, but one glimpse into the bottle to see the vibrant colour and clarity made you fully aware of the beauty of what is inside, awaiting to be enjoyed.
The numerous splinters from opening cases during the inspection soon departed, but the memory of battling the original metal bands on Montrachet Domaine Romanee-Conti 1983, 1986 and 1989 vintages will not. Being the first and only person to gently open the delicate lid of this particular case of 1961 Mouton-Rothschild will certainly not.
This was an extraordinary inspection for a quite extraordinary collection of wine. My memories will not fade, and I am most confident the buyers from this sale will have even greater memories when enjoying and sharing these wonderful wines, made all the greater by the philanthropic story and causes behind this auction.
LEAD IMAGE: MOUTON 1961. ESTIMATE HK$180,000–260,000.