On 31 March, The Philanthropist's Cellar: An Extraordinary Collection Sold to Benefit Charitable Causes will be auctioned in Hong Kong in what could potentially be Sotheby's largest-ever single-owner wine sale in Asia. Proceeds from the 800 lots will benefit the improvement of the health and educational conditions of children and young people in rural China. Ahead of the sale, Serena Sutcliffe, MW, reflects on the generosity of this esteemed connoisseur and the legendary Bordeaux wines being offered from his collection.
There is a beautiful symbiosis between generosity in a person and the same attribute in a wine. Both are among the most heart-warming experiences we may be fortunate enough to know, and we are always privileged to come across them. The distribution of this extraordinary collection of wine, with the tremendous benefit it will bring to those less lucky than ourselves, is an example of generosity at its highest level. The philanthropic gesture and the quality of the wines themselves set a new standard in vinous history, and we are profoundly grateful for the opportunity it gives us to strive for the best possible result, aware as we are of the deep commitment to improve the lives of others that lies behind this sale.
I have known the consignor for decades and, it must be said, it does not surprise me that this is the decision taken with regard to one of the most exciting collections of wine that has ever been offered, a milestone in the line-up of Hong Kong auctions. This was always a person who was aware of the disparity between those of us who have been dealt a "good hand" in life and others who have had less good fortune. It was also someone of great finesse and sensitivity, two character traits that spilled over into a palate that showed the same features. When this person was very young, there was a talent for tasting and judgement based on a real sense of intrinsic quality – the secret to understanding the fundamentals of wine. It was always a pleasure to share bottles and views with the owner of these fabulous wines. We have happy memories in common.
It will be seen immediately that such huge depth in a collection is the result of acquiring wine over a considerable time, from carefully considered sources and with the avowed policy of playing in Bordeaux's top division. It is these wines that hold us in thrall, because of their proven ability to delight in all their facets and at all stages of their development. Indeed, we ourselves develop and learn by following them on their journey to maturity. We discuss this endlessly over emptying glasses, seemingly more wise as the bottles mount up. Are the 1982s on the level of the 1961s, in spite of the far higher yields of the younger vintage? How do those wondrous 1961s differ from the 1959s? Why are the magnificent 1989s and the 1990s not as close in taste as they were in weather conditions during the growing period? And at what age can one see a discernible difference between a bottle and a magnum in the same wine – acquire both, show them side by side, and see for yourself? This is the "intellectual" side of wine drinking, irrevocably linked to the hedonistic element, making the pursuit of our vinous passion doubly fascinating.
The shining stars of Bordeaux are all here, those chateaux that have created legends over centuries and that continue to aim for excellence. The world-famous gems jostle for position, but there are also golden nuggets, such as the really successful 1970s that required more skill to identify. It would take too long for me to write – and for you to read (when you should be drinking wine!) if I listed all the unforgettable tastes that this collection conjures up, but one example will suffice.
At dinner with close friends this last Christmas Day, we drank Cheval Blanc 1982 (with goose, since you asked!) and it was phenomenally showy and powerful, rich and mouth-coating, living up one hundred per cent to all that was expected of it. This is why we buy great Bordeaux. Play around with these wines, take them seriously for the proof of brilliant winemaking that they demonstrate, but consume them with joie de vivre – after careful decanting, of course.
I wonder how many chateau owners will open this catalogue and feel a little nostalgic, remembering treasures from the past and recalling the vintages they made as well as those for which a parent, or even a grandparent, was responsible. It is that kind of collection – liquid landmarks that light up life.
If you can bear to leave Bordeaux for a moment, cast a glance at the Burgundy and Sauternes – it will be worth the effort.
Above all, credit must be given to the great wine connoisseur who amassed this collection and then had the generosity of spirit to share it, on a grand scale, with fellow wine enthusiasts and for the benefit of others.