Christie’s wine specialist Charles Foley is pictured above at Octavian Vaults, a suitably fabulous location for an encounter with a truly top-notch wine. Octavian, formerly a stone mine in the southwest of England, now houses some 5 million bottles of wine worth in excess of £1 billion. Among the stunning wines kept in perfect conditions on behalf of its thousands of clients from all over the world — from Château Petrus to Romanée-Conti to Screaming Eagle — is this rare bottle of 1985 Armand Rousseau, Chambertin Clos de Bèze, from an even rarer case, which is offered in Finest and Rarest Wines and Spirits on 5-6 June in London.
‘This wine always makes me think of the monastic heritage of Burgundy,’ says Foley. ‘In the early 7th century, the Duke of Southern Burgundy gifted lands to the Abbey of Bèze for agricultural use. The monks, being partial to a sip of wine after prayers, opted to continue the Roman practice of plantings vines. They sectioned off a field for this purpose, and named it the Clos de Bèze.’
Some six centuries later, a man named Bertin was fortunate enough to enjoy a taste of the monks’ delicately crafted wine, and was suitably impressed. He purchased the field (champ in French) next to the abbey, and planted his own vines. His vineyard became known as Champs de Bertin (Bertin’s field), which the locals quickly shortened to Chambertin.
‘Sitting over the road, the monks realised the quality of the liquid in Bertin’s goblet, and decided to append their own vineyard with his name in order to ride on his success,’ says Foley. And so Chambertin Clos de Bèze was born, through the combination of a wine-lover’s enterprise and the subsequent jealousy of the monks who had initially inspired him.
‘Domaine Armand Rousseau is the pre-eminent producer and was also the best-performing Burgundy producer at Christie’s last year,’ says Foley. ‘The Grand Cru wines from this estate show incredible power, poise and precision.’
Their first plot of Clos de Bèze was added in 1961 under the direction of Charles Rousseau, who succeeded his father, Armand, after his death in a car accident in 1959. Charles’s 1985 Clos de Bèze has been described by the American wine writer Allen Meadows as ‘utterly seductive’, while the godfather of fine wine, Robert Parker, has written of its ‘sense of purity’.
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‘It’s rare to find this wine at auction today,’ Foley says. ‘The last time it appeared on the auction circuit six bottles sold for $30,000.’ In June, the 12 bottles in an original carton carry an estimate of £40,000-£60,000. ‘We are expecting to see a fantastic result,’ adds the specialist.