How did America Online chairman Stephen Case mark the moment that he reached a historic merger agreement with Time Warner chairman Gerald Levin? The wine collector pulled a bottle of 1990 Lioville Las Cases -- a well-known second-growth red Bordeaux -- out of his private cellar.
Although the AOL-Time Warner deal had been in the works since October, the final details were smoothed out during a lengthy dinner on Jan. 6 at Case's home in northern Virginia, near AOL's headquarters. Joining Case and Levin for the meal were Richard Bressler, chairman of Time Warner's Digital Media division, and Kenneth Novack, vice chairman of AOL.
Once the two parties settled the sticking point of ownership -- agreeing that AOL shareholders would take 55 percent of AOL Time Warner, while Time Warner's side would get 45 percent -- Case called for the Bordeaux, according to New York Times reports. After dessert was polished off, the two sides agreed to sleep on their decision. The next morning, everyone was still comfortable with the deal.
Case's generous offering certainly could have contributed to an amicable mood that evening. Lioville Las Cases, in the St.-Julien district, has been ranked among the top 50 Bordeaux estates by Wine Spectator, and its wines frequently earn "outstanding" and "classic" ratings. The 1990 vintage, which was released at a price of $44 per bottle, sold at auction for an average of $175 in the third quarter of 1999.
When senior editor James Suckling, Wine Spectator's Bordeaux expert, last tasted the 1990 (see The Cabernet Challenge in the Sept. 15, 1996 issue), he scored it 91 points on the 100-point scale, describing it as "a lovely, harmonious wine, with subtle aromas and flavors of cedar, tobacco and cherry. Medium- to full-bodied, with ultrafine tannins and a long finish; all done with finesse."
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