The outstanding cellar of Dr A. Botenga: ‘In the end, it’s all emotion’

The result of more than 60 years of collecting, Dr Botenga’s wine cellar — offered in Hong Kong and London — contains countless rare vintages, including perhaps the greatest Burgundy ever produced and a 1945 Bordeaux that is ‘probably the most sought-after bottle in the world’

‘Everyone can become a great wine lover’ — Dr Botenga in his cellar

Anyone walking past the house of retired radiologist Dr Botenga, on a quiet cul-de-sac in The Hague, would have no clue what lies beneath.

Stretching as far as the eye can see is an underground labyrinth housing thousands of bottles of precious wine. There are in fact three separate cellars where these unique vinous treasures have aged quietly while the decades passed by. Stacked from floor to ceiling, the bottles have all been individually wrapped in cellophane to protect their labels, and their details are meticulously recorded in ledgers containing the original invoices and exact measurements of the distance between the liquid and the cork, known as ‘ullage’.

‘Not only is this one of the greatest collections of wine in Europe, with all the classic vintages present as far back as 1914, it’s also a very personal collection that tells a wonderful story,’ says Edwin Vos, Christie’s International Head of Wine and Spirits.

Three cellars lie beneath Dr Botenga’s house in The Hague, containing a collection of wine that amounted at its peak to around 55,000 bottles

Among the thousands of bottles being offered is ‘one of the most comprehensive collections of Petrus from the 1960s to the 1980s ever seen at auction’

Dr Botenga began collecting wine nearly 70 years ago, in 1956, while a student at Utrecht University. During a meeting of the university’s wine society, he was poured a glass of 1947 Château Léoville Las Cases, which a friend had driven to France to source.

‘That was really the moment I started going very deep into wine,’ he recalls in the short film above, adding that he plans to toast his 90th birthday next year with another bottle of the same vintage.

Bottles of Château Mouton-Rothschild 1945, one of the legends of winemaking history, in Dr Botenga's cellar

Bottles of Château Mouton-Rothschild 1945, ‘one of the legends’ of winemaking history, in Dr Botenga’s cellar

At the height of his collecting, Botenga would drive all over Europe, visiting dealers and domaines to expand his knowledge and fill his car. He remembers turning down cases of wine from the revered Burgundy producer Henri Jayer because there was no more room in his boot, regretting that decision many years later when those bottles became particularly highly sought-after.

His collection swelled from 10 bottles to around 55,000 at its peak — and he tasted every single wine in it. On 1 December 2023, Christie’s will offer The Dr A. Botenga Cellar: Six Decades of Collecting Part II in London, closely following the sale of Part I in Hong Kong on 24 November. Together the sales represent the vast majority of what remains in his cellar, amounting to some 17,500 bottles.

‘Dr Botenga never bought for investment. Every bottle was bought to be enjoyed with friends and family,’ explains Vos. ‘But he knows the time has come to streamline his collection and let others share in the pleasure he has got from it.’

‘Everyone can become a great wine lover, starting with simple wines, building up the capacity to see the difference in taste, difference in smell,’ says Botenga. ‘In the end, it’s all emotion. At that moment, you are ripe for it. Your senses are open. Wine which can do that is rare.’

Vieux-Château-Certan

One of Vos’s highlights from across the two sales is a rare group of Vieux-Château-Certan vintages, including 1950, 1952, 1961 and 1966. The vineyard, which covers around 35 acres at the heart of the Pomerol plateau, has its own unique microclimate that enables different grape varieties to mature to perfection. ‘These bottles are very rare,’ says Vos. ‘In fact, I’ve never seen them in any other cellar.’

Vieux-Château-Certan 1961. 9 bottles per lot. Sold for £7,500 on 1 December 2023 at Christie’s in London

Château Mouton-Rothschild

Offered in Hong Kong were six bottles of Château Mouton-Rothschild from 1945, of which only around 6,000 cases were ever produced. With notes of leather, soy, Asian spice, cigars, wood, truffle and cassis, it was given a score of 100/100 by The Wine Cellar Insider. ‘This is a classic wine — one of the legends, I would say,’ says Vos. Botenga describes it as ‘probably the most sought-after bottle in the world’.

Château Mouton-Rothschild 1959. 11 bottles per lot. Sold for £30,000 on 1 December 2023 at Christie’s in London

Domaine de la Romanée-Conti La Tâche

Alongside this are bottles of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti La Tâche from 1978, which was famously given a rare six-star rating by the critic Michael Broadbent in 1983 and has been described by Decanter magazine as arguably the greatest Burgundy grand cru ever produced. Two bottles of the 1978 will be offered as a single lot in The Dr A. Botenga cellar: Six Decades of Collecting Part II on 1 December 2023 at Christie’s in London (estimate: £12,000-17,000).

Domaine de la Romanee-Conti La Tache 1978

Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, La Tâche 1978. 11 bottles per lot. Sold for HK$937,500 in Offered in The Dr A. Botenga cellar: Six Decades of Collecting Part I on 24 November 2023 at Christie’s in Hong Kong

The sale also contains definitive wines such as Château Latour 1961, Château Palmer 1959 and a double-magnum of Petrus 1982, representing one of the most comprehensive collections of Petrus from the 1960s to the 1980s ever seen at auction.

Open link https://www.christies.com/lot/lot-6456851

Château Latour 1961. 12 bottles per lot. Sold for £56,250 on 1 December 2023 at Christie’s in London

Open link https://www.christies.com/lot/lot-6457229

Petrus 1982. 1 double-magnum. Sold for £17,500 on 1 December 2023 at Christie’s in London

‘There are so many amazing bottles that even someone with my job hardly ever sees,’ says the specialist. ‘It’s been such a pleasure packing this cellar with Dr Botenga over the past six months, and I look forward to watching a new generation of collectors enjoy it.’

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Assembling the collection was certainly a labour of love. ‘Every bottle that leaves the cellar is a part of my heart,’ says Botenga.

The Dr A. Botenga Cellar: Six Decades of Collecting Part II will be offered at Christie’s in London on 1 December 2023. Explore The Dr A. Botenga Cellar

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