By Guy Collins
An historic bottle of the 1865 vintage of top Bordeaux wine estate Chateau Lafite sold for $31,070 at a Hart Davis Hart Wine Co. auction on Dec. 18 and 19, well above its presale estimate of $11,000 to $17,000, according to an email from the Chicago-based auction house.
The wine was made three years before Baron James de Rothschild bought the first-growth Pauillac estate on Aug. 8, 1868 from the Vanlerberghe family heirs, paying 4.14 million francs, according to the second edition of Charles Cocks’s `Bordeaux et Ses Vins,’ published that same year.
According to Cocks, the 1865 Lafite harvest was bought en primeur in 1866 for 5,000 francs per tonneau, an amount which equates to 900 liters, or 100 12-bottle cases, by Bordeaux merchants Barton & Guestier, Clossmann, Cruse, Eschenauer, Finck and Johnston. It immediately rose to 6,600 francs, and by the summer of 1868 “the little that remained in the Bordeaux market reached a price of 8,000 francs” a tonneau.
The bottle sold at the Hart auction is labeled “Chateau Lafite-Rothschild,” even though it wasn’t in family ownership at the time. It was recorked at the chateau in March 1953, and again in 1986. The bottle was bought by Napa Valley vineyard owner and avid collector Joseph Phelps at a Christie’s auction in London in March 1981 for the equivalent of $1,980 and has remained in his collection until this sale, according to the Hart catalog.
U.S. critic Robert Parker described the wine as “otherworldly” in the fourth edition of his “Bordeaux, The Comprehensive Guide,” with “an extraordinary fragrance, great density, and fabulous intensity of chocolate, herb and cedar-like flavors with a wonderful sweet, inner core of opulent fruit. The finish is long and velvety, with no hard edges.”
Other top Bordeaux in the sale included a full case of Lafite 1948, which also sold for $31,070; 11 bottles of Chateau Latour 1959, which fetched a record $77,675, and 12 bottles of Latour 1962, which sold for $23,900.
By Guy Collins