The Wine Spectator for December 15 reported that at Christie’s inaugural wine auction in Los Angeles on September 28, an anonymous telephone bidder paid $290,000 for a case of Chateau Mouton-Rothschild 1945 and capped that by paying $345,000 for a case of six magnums of the same wine. Talk about cornering the market. Ha-ha, that’s not the point of course, the point is that this gentleman paid $635,000 for two cases of wine. That’s an average of $26,458 for a standard 750-milliliter bottle.

Will he pop the cork on a few with the Christmas standing rib roast and Yorkshire pudding? mouton_01.jpg
Ha-ha, well, that’s not the point either, is it, because one does pay one’s money and one does take one’s choice, doesn’t one, and if Mr. Anonymous Telephone Bidder wants to pour his Mouton ’45 at the next office party, he has every right to do so, though some of us would spurn to cast pearls before swine. I vividly remember attending a party, in a small town in the Mississippi Delta, about 10 years ago, at which a young doctor was pouring magnums of Chateau Margaux 1981 as house wine, and people were lining up for it, glasses raised, saying things like “Damn good shit, whaddya say this was again?” And my reaction was to bloody the keyboard on his grand piano and kick off a couple of ivories, but that’s another story.
Anyway, what is Mr. Anonymous Telephone Bidder getting for his $635,000? Twelve bottles and six magnums of the wine that Robert M. Parker Jr. , in the fourth edition of Bordeaux: A Consumer’s Guide to the World’s Finest Wines (Simon & Schuster, 2003), calls “truly one of the immortal wines of the century” and asks the (seeming rhetorical) question: “Will it last another 50 years?”

Michael Broadbent, in Vintage Wine: Fifty Years of Tasting Three Centuries of Wines (Harcourt, 2002). describes Mouton ’45 as “immediately recognisable, complex, endlessly fascinating, unforgettable … inimitable, incomparable … Seemingly tireless — indeed another half century anticipated.”

No need to go on; Mouton ’45 is obviously one of the best and most long-lived wines made not merely in Bordeaux or France but in the world. Its reputation is not hurt by the fact that Bordeaux suffered from mediocre vintages throughout the 1930s and into the war-torn 1940s, but that the year of the end of World War II was the triumphant 1945. That was also the first vintage for which Baron Philippe de Rothschild commissioned an artist-designed label for the wine, a tradition that continues today.

Rarity is also a factor. Mouton made about 12,645 cases of the 1945 and 2,091 magnums. After 60 years, how much could be left? Broadbent and Parker themselves must had consumed a goodly portion.

So history, heritage, rarity and supreme quality make Mouton ’45 perhaps the most sought-after wine for the world’s collectors.

But, you know, for $26,458 you could buy, well, what? One hundred, even 200 bottles of very fine wine indeed, getting your cellar off to a splendid start. A pretty damned stunning diamond bracelet. Half-interest in a Hummer. On the other hand, in many parts of the United States, $635,000 barely buys a decent house. On the other hand, again, $635,000 would probably feed and house and buy medical supplies and build a school and pay the teachers for the population of a village in Darfur for several generations, if there are any villages left in Darfur.

Again, what’s the point of all this?

I want a glass of that wine!