Yul Brynner, whose home in France had meticulously well-kept cellars. Yul Brynner on holiday, Switzerland, 1959. Photo © Inge MorathMagnum Images

The magnificent five: famous wine cellars offered at Christie’s

Yul Brynner is just one of many celebrities whose wine collections have been auctioned at Christie’s. Specialist Charles Foley looks back on some of his favourites

Yul Brynner (1920-1985)

The legend of stage and screen, celebrated for his performances in The King and I, The Ten Commandments  and The Magnificent Seven, was also a collector of fine wines. The cellars at his French estate, Le Manoir de Cricquebeuf in Normandy, were meticulously recorded and temperature-controlled, their vintages concentrated on the period that marked the height of his career, between 1959 and 1979.

When Christie’s was invited to inspect his cellar following the actor’s death in 1985, however, it was wines from the 1934 vintage that particularly delighted specialist Michael Broadbent MW. Magnums of Château Lafite-Rothschild (always Michael’s favourite Bordeaux) were highlights of the subsequent sale.

Château Lafite-Rothschild 1934 and 1928. Pauillac, 1er cru classé. Two bottles per lot. Sold for CHF1,528 on 17 May 2016 at Christie’s in Geneva
Château Lafite-Rothschild 1934 and 1928. Pauillac, 1er cru classé. Two bottles per lot. Sold for CHF1,528 on 17 May 2016 at Christie’s in Geneva

Brynner was famous for never drinking before a performance. On tour as the King of Siam, resplendent in colourful silk, he would wait until after each of his six weekly shows, retiring to his dressing rooms for a glass of the world’s finest, decanted for him during the second act.

Doris Duke (1912-1993)

The billionaire tobacco heiress was another fine wine aficionado and meticulous record-keeper, who filled the cellars of two of her homes with rare and treasured vintages.

Doris Duke’s cellar included a large quantity of the first Dom Pérignon vintage ever released. Doris Duke, 1953
Photo © 1978 Wallace Seawell. mptvimages  eyevine
Doris Duke’s cellar included a large quantity of the first Dom Pérignon vintage ever released. Doris Duke, 1953 Photo: © 1978 Wallace Seawell. mptvimages / eyevine

While her Islamic-inspired waterfront property, Shangri La in Hawaii, held a wealth of wines for entertainment purposes, the former meat locker at Duke Farms in Somerville, New Jersey, was kept cold for her most prized wines: bottles of Romanée-Conti 1934, Château La Mission Haut-Brion 1929 and Château d’Yquem 1929, alongside unicorn wines such as Les Gaudichots 1929 from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and Armand Rousseau’s 1934 Chambertin.

However, it was a cache of Dom Pérignon 1921 that really got Michael Broadbent excited. In 1935, Moët had been asked to supply a special bottling for the centenary of its British importer, Simon Bros. and Co. The Epernay house duly dispatched 300 specially commissioned, heavy-bottomed bottles filled with the 1926 vintage for distribution among the importer’s 150 best customers.

Dom Pérignon Vintage 1921. Three bottles per lot. Sold for $24,675 on 4 June 2004 at Christie’s in New York
Dom Pérignon Vintage 1921. Three bottles per lot. Sold for $24,675 on 4 June 2004 at Christie’s in New York

When word of this luxury cuvée spread to post-prohibition America, 100 cases — this time filled with the finer, more mature 1921 vintage — were shipped to New York. Not able to use the same label as the previous year, Moët named this 1936 cuvée Dom Pérignon after Champagne’s founding father.

As Duke had managed to secure one of the largest portions of this US shipment, she found herself in possession of a considerable quantity of the first Dom Pérignon vintage ever released. The 2004 sale of her collection at Christie’s in New York made an astounding $3,755,711.

Sir Alex Ferguson CBE (b. 1941)

The legendary manager of one of the world’s most followed football clubs, Manchester United, first became interested in collecting wines in 1991 when he was in Montpellier for the European Cup Winners’ Cup. He was staying at a hotel called La Maison Blanche, and the owner asked if he would like red wine with his dinner, hopefully presenting a bottle of Château Pétrus. A conversation ensued, during which the owner advised him to buy the 1982 and 1985 vintages as often as he could. The flame was lit.

Sir Alex Ferguson, whose wine collection sold from more than HK$40 million in 2014

Sir Alex Ferguson, whose wine collection sold from more than HK$40 million in 2014

As his collection grew, Sir Alex developed a particular fondness for wines from 1999, the year in which Manchester United won European football’s most prestigious competition, the Champions League. Bottles of 1999 Grands Crus from the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti were especially treasured.

When his vast collection was auctioned at Christie’s in 2014, however, the top lot proved not to be the 1999, but the 1997 vintage: a methuselah of Romanée-Conti, which fetched £94,815. The sale total was a staggering HK$41,742,524.

A bottle of Château Haut-Brion 2005 signed by Sir Alex Ferguson

A bottle of Château Haut-Brion 2005 signed by Sir Alex Ferguson

Before the sale, Ferguson shared some of his favourite anecdotes, such as the time his fellow manager Sam Allardyce had presented him with a bottle of Château Latour from 1986, the year Ferguson had joined United. Ever the joker, Ferguson emptied the bottle and filled it with Ribena instead. When the pair sat down to lunch, he took one sniff of the wine, looked at Sam and said, ‘What’s your game here then?’

Ken Hom OBE (b. 1949)

The Chinese-American chef Ken Hom, author of numerous cookery books and presenter of a raft of TV shows, was born in Arizona. He first learnt to wield a wok at his uncle’s Chinese restaurant in Chicago, and later honed his skills in Berkeley, California. There he read history of art before teaching Chinese and Italian cookery classes, and fell in love with wine, taking guidance from the cookery school’s director, Ron Batori.

In their efforts to understand the wines of Bordeaux, the two men opened as many bottles of claret as they could lay their hands on, while Hom stocked up his cellar in California in preparation for dinner parties with his friends.

Chef, broadcaster and wine aficionado Ken Hom. Ken Hom at home in Catus, France, 2003 Photo Paul CooperShutterstock
Chef, broadcaster and wine aficionado Ken Hom. Ken Hom at home in Catus, France, 2003 Photo: Paul Cooper/Shutterstock

When he relocated to a 14th-century farmhouse in Catus, France, moving his wines a little closer to their original home, he grew particularly passionate about the 1995 vintage. In 2006, prior to the sale of his collection in London, he treated Christie’s specialists to an exquisite lunch. For Hom, wine is just part of the table, not the centrepiece. It is made to loosen tongues and promote conviviality. His collection sold for £130,000.

Charlie Trotter (1959-2013)

When Charlie Trotter closed his eponymous two-Michelin-starred Chicago restaurant in 2012, wine lovers the world over were eager to acquire bottles from his four cellars.

Wine was central to the philosophy of Charlie Trotter at his restaurant in Chicago. Charlie Trotter, September 2011. Photo Alex GarciaChicago TribuneTribune News Service via Getty Images
Wine was central to the philosophy of Charlie Trotter at his restaurant in Chicago. Charlie Trotter, September 2011. Photo: Alex Garcia/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Since 1987, he had attracted top winemakers to his restaurant with his philosophy that food and wine should not just complement but inspire one another, taking the complete dining experience to even greater heights. He began stocking the rarest bottles and adapting dishes to suit the wines that diners had ordered, setting trends on what to drink and what to drink it with.

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In 2012, his collection sold for US$1,136,129 — including $29,040 for four bottles of Richebourg 1986 from Henri Jayer. Trotter sadly passed away in 2013.