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My own version of a wine treasure

By By Stan Torgerson / wine columnist
March 3, 2004
Have you ever revisited your bookcase and found some old volume you had read many years before. You pull it out, thumb through the pages and warm and pleasant memories come flooding back to you.
I did that a few days ago. The book was actually a catalog, "The Eighth Premiere National Auction of Rare Wines," dated Thursday, May 27, 1976.
Back then the wine companies of famed distributor Heublein Inc. sponsored an annual auction of just what the book's title said "rare wines." The 1976 auction was in the Grand Ballroom of the Royal Sonesta Hotel in New Orleans, and a group of us from Meridian decided to attend. It was the first time, but not the last. We followed succeeding auctions to Atlanta, then back to New Orleans and other cities as well six more in all.
Each auction had its own catalog listing the wines that were to be auctioned as well as providing a bit of romance about the wines since they had been gathered from private collections all over the world.
Page 55 of the 1976 catalog. The offering was "Heirloom Library Treasures From The Bouchard Pere &Fils Family Crypt Beneath The Chateau De Beaune."
These French treasures had been discovered in 1973 and the story of the discovery in the catalog read like a novel.
In that chamber they discovered the wine treasures.
The treasures were bottles of burgundy from the 1864 vintage.
A bottle was carefully taken from the rack, packaged and sent to New Orleans for the auction. It sold for $2,000, a handsome price in 1976.
The auction is no more. The supply of these great old antiquities ran out over the next seven years. Most of the hidden cellars had apparently been found.
But the pre-auction tastings, the bidding, the lovely wines we bought and later consumed live with me still as I discovered when I opened the now 28-year-old catalog pages. The tastings were particularly memorable because multi bottles from more recent vintage years were set up on tables for the visitors to taste before they bid. And every once in awhile the crowd was allowed to taste a bottle from the 1800s. We would line up and the auctioneer would do the pouring, putting only a tiny amount in each glass so that more people would have the opportunity to taste these treasures.
Our Meridian group would select the later vintage wines and bid on them as a team, buying eight, 10 or 12 cases at a time because the larger lots were less expensive per case. Ah, what memories.
Some day I'll tell you about the day I was caught up in the auction frenzy and bought two bottles of an 1824 French vintage. When I got them home I eventually opened them, and while I concede the wine inside was old and tired, the experience of owning and tasting a 150-year-old bottle made it worth every penny. One of the hand-blown empty bottles sits in my cellar today, my own version of a wine treasure.