Friday, 5 August 2011

US$117,000 for a bottle of wine? Sweet!

These days, Christian Vanneque is looking like the cat that swallowed the canary. The sommelier and restaurateur entered the Guinness Book of World Records on 26th July this year when he became the owner of the world’s most expensive bottle of white wine, an 1811 vintage of Chateau d’Yquem that sold for US$117,000. Made from Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon grapes infected by noble rot, Chateau d’Yquem ranks as the greatest sweet white wine in the world. Wine critic Robert Parker has the following tasting note on the 1811 vintage: “……The d’Yquem, with its dark gold color, awesomely intense, sweet nose, unctuous, thick, fabulous flavor extraction, pinpoint precision, and a finish that lasted a minute or more, is the kind of wine on which Yquem’s reputation is based. It was liquified crème brûlée – an astonishing wine…” Adding to its value is a Record of Inspection from Chateau d’Yquem that authenticates the design of the bottle as consistent with production methods used at that time.

Christian was transiting in Singapore last week en route from London to Bali, where the precious bottle will be displayed at his new restaurant, the SIP Sunset Grill in Seminyak.  At the grand opening on 1st August 2011, members of the public will be able to view the record-breaking bottle, albeit through a custom made bullet-proof, temperature and humidity controlled showcase. Even when displayed at a press conference in Singapore, the bottle was assiduously attended to by security personnel. This careful handling displays the reverence he has for the wine. Perhaps he also remembers the lesson of wine merchant William Sokolin, notoriously remembered as having broken the world’s most expensive bottle of wine, a 1787 Chateau Margaux valued at US$225,000.

What possesses people to pay such stratospheric figures for a bottle of wine? For Christian, the bottle represents a piece of history. He says, “1811 is a date that Napoleon was in power in France, James Madison was the President of the United States, Beethoven was writing the 7th, and Franz Liszt and Napoleon II were born. I always knew that I had Napoleon’s height, but now I know that I have something from his reign also.” 1811 also marks the year a brilliant comet appeared in the night skies; wine lovers claim that the astronomical entity bestowed wines from that vintage with extraordinary finesse and longevity.

The bottle was sold to Christian by the Antique Wine Company, a London-based rare wine specialist that was also responsible for the sale of the previous record holder, a 1787 Chateau d’Yquem. Its track record of selling fine wines since 1982 gave Christian the confidence to purchase the bottle. At the handing over ceremony in London, Stephen Williams (Managing Director of the Antique Wine Company) said that “Most days, we handle extraordinary transactions, but today is very, very special because this is such a unique, rare and valuable bottle of wine.”

Christian plans to open the bottle in August 2017 at the three Michelin-star La Tour d’Argent restaurant in Paris to commemorate the 50th anniversary since he started his career there as the Head Sommelier. It was at that very establishment that his love of Yquem came about, having purchased numerous bottles for the restaurant’s wine cellar. The guest list and menu for the dinner have already been planned out. He says, “A sommelier is not a collector, a sommelier is a wine drinker. This bottle was never purchased with the idea of investment in mind.”

That being said, Christian is already reaping rewards from his purchase. Newswires around the world have been buzzing about the transaction, and this has helped generate tremendous publicity for his new restaurant. There will no doubt be a long queue of people craning their necks to catch a glimpse of the famous bottle at the SIP Sunset Grill, and people who do not usually associate Bali as a place to drink fine wine will have to rethink their position. In fact, the SIP Sunset Grill will boast the largest and most comprehensive wine cellar in Indonesia when it opens. From a marketing perspective, the purchase has been a complete success.

As a judge in the 1976 Paris Wine Tasting, Christian witnessed a landmark event in which the superiority of French wines was challenged. However, his latest gambit shows that when it comes to prestige and resale value, Bordeaux still sets the standard. A thought that will surely make the wine taste all the sweeter.

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