A 258-Year-Old Cognac Is Now the World's Most Expensive Bottle
Cognac may not have the same cachet as whiskey for booze collectors. With the world’s most expensive bottle of whiskey selling for nearly $2 million last year, Scotch is clearly the king of alcohol auctions. But that doesn’t mean a historically significant cognac can’t sell for an eye-popping price of its own. Yesterday, Sotheby’s announced a new auction record for a bottle: $144,525.
The item in question—a bottle of Gautier Cognac 1762—is billed as “the oldest vintage Cognac ever to be sold at auction”: one of just three bottles of “this exceedingly rare” spirit to still exist today, all of which still have their original labels.
“This was the last and largest of these remaining bottles, known as ‘Grand Frère,’ or the ‘Big Brother,’” Sotheby’s explained announcing the sale. “Its little sister (‘petite soeur’) is housed in the Gautier Museum, and its little brother (‘petit frère’) was sold at auction in New York in 2014.”
The new owner of the Big Brother was described only as “an Asian private collector”—though Sotheby’s did mention that the collector would get “to enjoy a bespoke experience at Maison Gautier, courtesy of the distillery” as part of his winning bid.
“This fantastic result speaks volumes of the 1762 Cognac’s exceptional history, provenance and importance for collectors. We are very pleased that Sotheby’s now holds all three records for the highest value ever achieved for a whisky, wine and cognac sold at auction,” said Jonny Fowle, Sotheby’s Spirits Specialist. The wine record was set in 2018 when a bottle of 1945 Romanee-Conti sold for $558,000.
Providing some perspective on just how old the cognac is, Sotheby’s stated, “The year 1762 is notable for a number of historic events, not least Britain entering the Seven Years’ War against Spain and Naples, Catherine II becoming empress of Russia, and the first Saint Patrick's Day Parade in New York City.” Might I add that a young Mozart was just six years old; George Washington turned 30.
Meanwhile, the question people always want answered is can you drink a record-breaking bottle? Not to say that you should, but Fowle had some thoughts on the cognac’s current tasting notes as well.
“Yes, this should still be drinkable. While the liquid will certainly have aged in the bottle, the ullage (level of liquid inside) is still very good, suggesting that the seal has not been compromised and the evaporation is minimal,” he explained. “High ABV liquids like this preserve themselves very well although I would expect there to be discernible ‘O.B.E.’ This stands for Old Bottle Effect, which is how we describe the development of spirits over time. Sometimes this can impart very pleasant tropical notes and at other times less appealing porridge-y notes. It can also be assumed that the glass used to bottle this cognac wasn’t entirely inert, and so will have imparted some flavors of its own.”
“Judging by its level I would expect this cognac to be in remarkably good condition,” he continued. “To imagine how this Cognac may taste would be pure speculation, but the depth of flavor imparted from grapes grown on ancient root stock could give the spirit a complexity that is harder to come by in the modern era."