Christie’s bills the bottles as ‘the oldest we have ever brought to market.’

By Mike Pomranz
May 29, 2019
De Agostini / Icas94/Getty Images

Wine auctions (well, booze auctions in general) have been going bonkers recently. Just this March, Sotheby’s set a record for the highest-grossing wine auction ever, buoyed by pricey bottles from Burgundy’s Domaine de la Romanée-Conti — the same producer that, last year, set a record for the most expensive bottle of wine ever sold. But just because these bottles are highly-coveted, the fact is you can go online and buy a bottle of wine from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti right now if you had the money to spare. Meanwhile, if you’re looking for something that’s truly unique, next week, Christie’s will be auctioning off two bottles of wine dating all the way back to the 17th century — the oldest wine the auction house has ever sold. Just don’t expect them to drink as well as a 20th century Burgundy.

As part of its Finest and Rarest Wines and Spirits sale in London on June 5 and 6 (which, hey, guess what, also includes bottles from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti), Christie’s will be auctioning off a two-bottle lot of “Shipwreck Wine.” Don’t let the unassuming name fool you: These wines were among 14 bottles recovered from a shipwreck off the coast of Germany in 2010 after being discovered “buried, deep in the mud in an old rattan basket,” as Christie’s explains. After testing, scientists determined the contents to be a “powerful red wine,” with analysis of the bottle shape and cork leading researchers to believe that this extremely aged vino was likely from “between 1670 and 1690.”

The listing quotes Professor Regis Gougeon of the University of Burgundy who wrote in 2016, “Our latest results obtained in Dijon confirm the liquid being a grape based beverage due to the presence of tartaric acid. Phenolic analysis confirmed a typical old wine signature rich in tannin degradation products and together with the presence of resveratrol enables us to tell it was a strong red wine. Interestingly, besides small aliphatic acids such as lactic and acetic acid, the wine still contained some amounts of ethanol.”

Christie’s puts the estimated price on these two bottles — which also arrive in “specially designed water-filled storage tanks” and are “offered with special equipment to maintain the bottles in their storage tanks” — at between $32,942 and $38,010. That would seem like a downright bargain compared to the aforementioned Romanée-Conti’s record-breaking $558,000 price tag. However, one major difference: Where that Burgundy could serve as the highlight of your dinner party, Christie’s explains that the Shipwreck Wine “is extremely old, and because it is not a fortified wine, it’s drinkability is questionable.” As a result, “this should be approached as a lot of historical and vinous importance.”

Though let’s be honest, this wouldn’t be the first time you tried something of questionable drinkability.

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