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The Most Expensive Bottle of Pinot Noir Ever Sold

Plus, wine lovers are still buying what Bernie Madoff is selling, a top Aussie label loses its winemaker and a charity wine event supports Ugandan orphans

Posted: May 19, 2011

• We all know about Asian buyers bogarting the Bordeaux at auctions these days but Burgundy's top bottle is coming to America. A private U.S. collector took the top lot at the Christie’s fine-wine auction in Geneva, Switzerland, May 17, scoring a 1945 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Romanée-Conti for an eye-popping $123,899, besting the high estimate by more than 50 percent and shattering the world record for the highest price ever reached for a 750ml bottle of Burgundy at auction. Take that Hong Kong. The bottle comes with stellar provenance: It was originally donated by DRC owner Aubert de Villaine to Christie’s for a charity auction in Geneva in 2007, where it was bought and remained impeccably stored until this week, when it hit the block again to make history. Only 600 bottles of this end-of-war Romanée-Conti were ever made, and the 1945 vintage represents the final harvest from ungrafted pre-phylloxera vines. The entire Romanée-Conti vineyard was uprooted in 1946 and did not produce wine again until the 1952 vintage, which currently averages a mere $7,600 per bottle on the Wine Spectator Auction Index.

• Last week, Unfiltered brought you news of the auction of Bernie Madoff's wine cellar, which had been confiscated by the FBI and U.S. Marshals Service following his conviction for swindling billions of dollars out of investors in his Ponzi scheme. Despite the questionable provenance of the cellar's contents, wine lovers are still buying what Bernie Madoff is selling—well, technically, what the federal government is selling. Despite an estimated value of $15,000 to $21,000, the sale realized $41,530, with 100 percent of the lots sold and 54 of the 59 up for bidding exceeding their high estimates. But it wasn't the trophy wines driving up the tally (a bottle of 1975 Pétrus sold for just $900; the 1964 Cheval-Blanc garnered just $550). It was apparently the novelty of owning booze that once belonged to America's most infamous white-collar criminal that drove up prices on all the lower-end items confiscated from his cellar: A case of Veuve-Clicquot Brut Champagne Yellow Label Non-Vintage (about $450 retail at Unfiltered's local wine shop) sold for $1,500; a handful of 2-ounce airplane bottles of Smirnoff vodka, Bombay gin and Grand Marnier, valued at $10, sold for an astounding $300. As shocking as it may be that people are still jumping at the chance to overpay for Madoff investments, the money is at least going to a worthy recipient this time around, via the U.S. Department of Justice Asset Forfeiture Fund. “The proceeds from this auction are going toward compensating Madoff’s victims, so we couldn't be happier with the results,” said Kimberly Janis, auction director for Morrell & Co.

• The shakeup continues at Barossa Valley Estate, the growers cooperative that produces, among other things E&E Black Pepper, one of Australia’s top Shiraz bottlings. In the wake of last month’s announcement that Constellation Brands had sold its 50 percent stake in the brand back to the growers, senior winemaker Stuart Bourne has decided to move on. He will become the winemaker at Chateau Tanunda, a long-dormant Barossa Valley fixture that has been revitalized by the Geber family. “I am leaving for all the right reasons,” Bourne said. “An opportunity I cannot say no to has presented itself at Chateau Tanunda, so I am heading down there to see if I can make a difference. I don’t intend to change much at all, simply refine. John Geber and his team there are very focused on regaining the iconic status of the chateau. The wines coming out of there in the last 10 years are beautiful and very expressive of the terroirs of the Barossa.” BVE has appointed Barossa veteran Mark Jamieson as consultant to bridge the gap until a replacement can be found for Bourne, expected within the year.

• Unfiltered hardly needs a good reason to spend a night eating and drinking wine in San Francisco, but the generous descendants of Julio Gallo and their charity wine label, Greater Purpose, along with the Plant-a-Seed Foundation, are providing one anyway. This Tuesday, May 24, at Otis Lounge, the two companies are teaming up to offer tastes of Greater Purpose wines to pair with complimentary appetizers from Radish restaurant and Fiscalini cheesemongers. The event will support the Protein for a Lifetime project, the goal of which is to build a sustainable chicken farm in Uganda that directly benefits 1,500 orphans. While small tastes of the Greater Purpose wines are free, don't be a bad egg—shell out the $5 for a full pour: 100 percent of proceeds during the event will go to ensuring a constant food source for the children. Greater Purpose wines was founded by two great-grandchildren of Julio Gallo and two of their cousins as a way of raising money for disadvantaged children worldwide, making the world a better place, one bottle at a time. For more information on the event, visit Greater Purpose wines online.

Richard Gangel
San Francisco —  May 19, 2011 6:34pm ET
As per the sale of Bernie Madoff's wine, I'd like to quote Shakespeare: What fool's these mortals be.
David Rapoport
CA —  May 19, 2011 9:02pm ET
You wrote: "Take that Hong Kong."

Seriously? Oh yeah, you really showed them... .
Thomas Bblanco
Las Vegas —  May 22, 2011 11:06pm ET
Stuey making the move!!

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