November 9, 1875. Indian Wars: In Washington, D.C., Indian Inspector E.C. Watkins issues a report stating that hundreds of Sioux and Cheyenne associated with Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse are hostile to the United States (the Battle of the Little Bighorn was fought in Montana the next year).
That same year, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti was quietly going about it’s business in the era where reports of phylloxera were finally being confirmed in the burgundian vineyards.
Here is the quote from the Christies catalogue of last week:
TWO RARE BOTTLES OF NINETEENTH CENTURY ROMANEE-CONTI
Lying at Christie’s South Kensington
Some years ago, Etablissements Nicolas sought to authenticate some old bottles of Romanee-Conti, resembling the bottles in this sale, which they had in their Paris cellars. These were itemised in their stock records, but without the bottles themselves carrying any distinctive sign; notably, the corks were not branded. It was impossible to have them authenticated.
In 1875, at the time of the oldest of the two bottles in this sale, Romanee-Conti was being tended and bottled in Santenay, in the cellars of the de Villaine family’s ancestor Duvault-Blochet. They normally did the bottling entirely at the property. It is possible that there were some barrel sales, but no records now exist to confirm this. The major part of the archives of the Domaine de la Romanee-Conti disappeared during World War II.
I have spoken with the grand-son of Etienne Nicolas, who founded ETS. NICOLAS. The firm did not exist in 1875. It was started by his maternal grandfather in the early years of the 20th century. Etienne Nicolas was born around 1870. The company he founded began as a shop selling wine from the barrel (magasin de vin ‘ la tireuse).
It is possible that these wines were reconditioned by the Nicolas company during the 20th century, from bottles which had come back to them from the cellars of collectors. Alternatively, it may have purchased stock from another merchant, then labelled it with Nicolas labels (a perfectly legal practise). Today, we have no means of finding out.
These bottles are intriguing rarities, with excellent levels. For a passionate Burgundy collector, they will be unique, fascinating additions to the cellar. We look forward to hearing news of their opening, hopefully accompanied by fearless, in-depth evaluation and tasting notes !
Romanée-Conti Grand Cru–Vintage 1875
Domaine de la Romanée-Conti
Corroded and damaged capsule. Label good for age, slightly bin-soiled. “Establissements Nicolas” at base of label. Level 4cms. below base of cork
1 bottle per lot
Well, that 1875 Romanee-Conti sold for £4,500 ($9,250), including the 12.5% buyer’s premium, about three times the venerable auction house’s estimate. In the same sale, the younger 1899 Romanée-Conti achieved £3,375 pounds – about the same as a decent modern vintage – why so cheap?
Anthony Hanson (AH), senior consultant to Christie’s wine department, had described the bottles before the auction as “curiosities” with “an element of risk” because their provenance was obscure. I would read that in the following way: Likely to be cooked so likely undrinkable (80%), possibly fake (19.5%) – some of you might choose to reverse those percentages, but the result remains the same – overall a 0.5% chance you could drink a decently stored 1875 Romanée-Conti. I might be an old cynic, but on the other hand, $9,000 for an objet d’art / chattel is not so bad, also if you fancy the 200 to 1 shot – that was incredibly cheap compared even to a recent (good provenance) bottle of 1990 or 1999…
Interestingly this seems such a common wine; Arvi has some, as does Everywine HERE.
Sources; Bloomberg, Christies