Wednesday, March 20, 2013

First Public Auction to Sell UK Government's Cellar Wines

Tomorrow, for the first time, the UK will allow the public auction of some very sought after wines from the Government’s Hospitality Wine Cellar.  What originally began as the Hospitality Fund was established in 1908 in order to offer visiting dignitaries a hospitable welcome.  This quickly led to the creation a government wine cellar.

The Government Hospitality Wine Committee decides what wines will be placed in the cellar to be served at dinners to entertain visiting dignitaries and heads of state.   The committee is made up of five members, a Chairman and four Masters of Wine.  These volunteers are government officials and wine consultants.

The Wine Committee selects the wines to be purchased, based on blind tastings.  Once acquired, the committee writes tasting descriptions about each wine to aid in selecting what is appropriate for an event or dignitary. The government purchases the wines young and then holds them in the cellar until they have reached full maturity.   The cellar contains wines that are more traditional and includes French wines from Bordeaux and Burgundy.

The Wine Committee then reviews the cellared wines periodically to determine several factors including how they are ageing, the quality, estimated time before opening, and what is ready to serve now.  Some of the wines are over 70 years old and still in fine shape. The UK government’s cellar is a paradigm of professional wine cellar management.  It is located in the basement of Lancaster House, near Buckingham Palace, in London.

The government’s cellar holds almost 40,000 bottles of wines currently worth an estimated £2.95m ($4.47 million). Originally about £850,000 (over 1.2 million) was spent to purchase them. The wine committee also recommends which wines should be sold, and when. 

Tomorrow, Christie’s will auction several of the wines from the UK government’s cellar.  These wines are said to be in peak condition and ready to be consumed.  

On the list to be auctioned are six bottles of Chateau Latour  - Vintage 1961.  Tasting notes indicate that the wine has been “fully mature for 15 years, but it seems to get richer, …developing more aromatic nuances without losing any sweetness or concentration.”  It is estimated to be worth £20,000-£30,000 ($30,200 – 45,300). 

Other government lots include six bottles of 1970 Pétrus.  Notes indicate, “It is a profound Pétrus, and certainly one of the great Pétrus’ of the last half century.”   It has an estimated value of £5,000, ($7,500).  Also six bottles of Pétrus, Vintage 1978, will be auction with a value around £4,000 ($6,000).

 A case of 1986 Mouton Rothschild, last tasted in November 2005, have notes which say, “Nowhere near ready… Hopefully*(****) 2010 - ?  Estimated value £5,000-£6,000  ($7,500 – 9,000).

And, a case of 1986 Le Pin.  Tasting notes say, “The finish is long and almost Medoc-like.” The case is expected to bring in around £10,000 ($15,100).  Total amount expected to be raised for the 54 bottles sold in six lots is around £50,000 ($75,500).

The UK Government Wine Cellar provides wine for over 200 events each year. The wines to be auctioned tomorrow have been served to “Kings, Queens, Presidents and Prime Ministers throughout the decades."

The auction for the UK government’s wines will begin at 2:30 P.M. London time, Thursday, March 21st. Lots 207 – 212 come directly from the Government Hospitality Wine Cellars where they have been stored since their original purchase.  The auction will be held at Lancaster House on King Street in London.  To watch the auction in real time or to register to bid on line, visit

A government review in 2010 recommended that the cellar assume full financial responsibility for the purchase of the wines, instead of relying on the taxpayers.  This is expected to be the first of many such auctions from the UK’s government cellars as they attempt to become self-funding.

~ Joy