‘The one bottle that changes everything’

Wine specialist Noah May discusses the wines that collectors look for — and why

‘Wine is something that changes and evolves,’ says Christie’s specialist Noah May, speaking from New York’s Landmarc Tribeca restaurant. ‘The difference between a young wine compared to that same wine at 20, 50 or 100 years of age... is an extraordinary journey.

‘Collectors are looking for wines that are balanced, and that have the ability to age and evolve,’ he continues. ‘The old saying is that there is no such thing as great old wines, just great old bottles, and collectors are constantly searching for that one bottle that changes everything.’

The specialist goes on to look at examples of such prized bottles, all of which are offered in the Fine Wines and Spirits sale on 21 October in New York. He starts with a Château Lafite-Rothschild 1961 (2 bottles per lot. Estimate: $1,300-1,800) from Bordeaux — or ‘the very apex of winemaking in the region and one of the five or six greatest vintages of the 20th century’. 

From there, May advises that a collector might move into a region such as Burgundy, with its ‘lighter, more delicate wines’. A bottle of Faiveley, Chambertin-Clos de Bèze from 1976 (7 bottles per lot. Estimate: $1,300-1,600) might, he says, be ‘difficult to understand and enjoy at first, but in the eyes of many collectors it’s the absolute zenith in terms of wine appreciation’.

Companhia Vinicola da Madeira, Terrantez 1795. 1 bottle per lot. Estimate $3,000-5,000. This lot is offered in Fine Wines and Spirits Featuring the Exceptional Collection of Jay Stein on 21 October 2016 at Christie’s in New York, Rockefeller Plaza

Companhia Vinicola da Madeira, Terrantez 1795. 1 bottle per lot. Estimate: $3,000-5,000. This lot is offered in Fine Wines and Spirits: Featuring the Exceptional Collection of Jay Stein on 21 October 2016 at Christie’s in New York, Rockefeller Plaza

Château Trotanoy 1975. 12 bottles per lot. Estimate $3,500-5,000. This lot is offered in Fine Wines and Spirits Featuring the Exceptional Collection of Jay Stein on 21 October 2016 at Christie’s in New York, Rockefeller Plaza

Château Trotanoy 1975. 12 bottles per lot. Estimate: $3,500-5,000. This lot is offered in Fine Wines and Spirits: Featuring the Exceptional Collection of Jay Stein on 21 October 2016 at Christie’s in New York, Rockefeller Plaza

One of the most interesting types of rare wine sold at Christie’s is Madeira. ‘[They] are absolutely singular,’ says May, looking at a bottle of HM Borges Terrantez from 1842 (2 bottles per lot. Estimate: $2,000-3,000). ‘What’s amazing about [them] is that they are practically indestructible.’

‘Wine has been an integral part of culture for centuries,’ May concludes, ‘and these days more collectors enjoy finding wines that offer experiences that you might not find in other regions. It's an exciting time to be involved in wine, and to be a wine drinker.’