Every serious wine collector wants to have a “Trophy Wine” on display in his wine cellar. The older the better, the more expensive the better. This wine will probably never be opened, it is there primarily for show or bragging rights, and must of course have a fantastic story behind the wine itself, or how the owner managed to acquire it, or both. If you have your current “Trophy Wine” on display in your cellar now, keep in mind that you cannot drink it without having a suitable replacement ready to take its place. And always remember that your replacement should always be an upgrade over your previous “Trophy Wine”.
So what should be so special about your own “Trophy Wine”? Should it be the most expensive wine in your cellar, or maybe the oldest wine in your collection? For some it might be a wine from the year you met your spouse, or the year you married your spouse, or the year you were born. For others it might be a wine that commemorates a special event, award or gift that was bestowed on you. There are so many different ways to go when deciding which wine you want to showcase in your cellar, and why. What you select is usually a matter of personal taste and means.
In my case, my Trophy Wine has been for many years my oldest bottle, the 1848 Henriques and Henriques Boal (W.S.) Vintage Madeira.
I previously wrote about this wine in my Blog Post # 30 on wine provenance in October 2016. This wine is now 172 years old,
and what I like the most about this wine, which I purchased about 35 years ago at auction, is that the entire provenance of the wine is detailed on the back label. So I know exactly where this wine has been from 1848 to roughly 1960, and again from 1985 to present.
For 25 years, from 1960 to 1985, someone else owned this wine, and from what I was able to learn from the auction company, that someone else was a collector like me. Maybe this wine was his Trophy Wine for those 25 years, I would like to think so.
Every wine collector with their own Trophy Wine is always on the lookout for anything else that happens along that will be an upgrade as a replacement of his current Trophy Wine. As said in my opening paragraph above, I cannot bring myself to drink my 1848 Vintage Madeira until I have upgraded to a better Trophy Wine, and I really want to try that 1848 Vintage Madeira.
Last year I found what I think may be a suitable replacement, a Shipwreck Wine that dates from between 1670 and 1690. The wine is/was red, and probably French, and probably from Bordeaux. Christie’s of London was due to auction off two bottles of this wine last June and they expected the bottles would fetch between $33,000 and $38,000 US for both.
There was a lot of press about the upcoming auction last May, ( https://www.ancient-origins.net/news-history-archaeology/shipwreck-wine-0012101), and ( https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/can-wine-survive-shipwreck ) but there has been nothing further said about the wine, the auction, who bought them, and at what price. Nothing but silence. Maybe a technical problem has caused a delay in the sale I thought, so maybe those Trophy Wines are still going to be available for purchase.
So let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons about buying this Shipwreck Wine as your Trophy Wine:
- Is The Price Right?
This all depends on your personal circumstances. For those of you who have over 1,000 bottles in a walk in, temperature/humidity controlled cellar, with a suitable display case, $35,000 US for a matching pair might be okay. After all, you will only buy one expensive item like that, and if you already have say $500,000 tied up in wine (at an average bottle price of $500.00), then $35,000 for that showpiece gets you bragging rights for the rest of your life. Besides, with two bottles you can open one bottle in a private tasting for you and your closest friends, and still keep the remaining bottle on display for decades to come. Lots of high end collectors will go for that.
- What are the chances that this Trophy Wine is actually drinkable?
Everyone wants to think the wine is drinkable, even though as a Trophy Wine it does not have to be. It does however add to the allure, the mystique, and the value of the wine. So before you buy, it would be wise to learn everything you can about the appearance of the liquid inside the bottle. Is the bottle full or half empty, is the liquid cloudy and murky, or clear? Can you determine the color of the wine? In what condition is the cork, has water pressure pushed in the cork deeper into the bottle? Is there a wax seal over the cork to protect against water infiltration, and if so does the wax seal remain intact?
- What were the storage/aging conditions to which this wine was exposed for 330 years?
The devil is in the details. How deep was the water, over 200 feet deep means water pressure will start forcing the cork into the bottle, eventually allowing for sea water infiltration. Was the water temperature fairly constant and close to zero centigrade? This is important as it will slow all aging of the wine to a snail’s pace. Exposure to light is not good, so if the wine is buried under sand and mud this is good. Motion is not good, so the wine needs to have been properly secured in a crate at least until it gets buried by the mud. What about storage conditions post salvage, will the wine be recorked with a new wax seal? This should be professionally done leaving no air in the bottle, just an inert gas.
- Who made the wine? Was it a high quality wine made for aging, or low quality for immediate consumption?
340 years ago wine was made primarily for immediate consumption. Nevertheless, there was still a huge difference in quality between the best and the worst wines. Wine bottled in expensive glass bottles, complete with cork and wax seal generally indicates a higher quality wine. You do however want to verify if at all possible who made this wine. The wine is worth a lot more if you can say “this wine was made by Chateau Haut Brion in Bordeaux”, rather than just “this wine is red from Europe, possibly France, possibly Bordeaux”. Please remember that a low quality wine to start with will not improve with age, it will just die. A high quality wine subjected to arrested development because of cold storage conditions may still be alive and drinkable.
- What story goes with the wine, who owned it and what happened to them when the ship wrecked?
Everybody loves a story, and a Shipwreck Wine is expected to have a story behind it. Who owned the wine, where were they sailing to, what was the purpose of the trip, did they survive or perish, and if they survived did they become famous or important to history. Obviously the better the story, the better your bragging rights become. The more important the owner, the higher the value of your Shipwreck Wine goes. If your shipwreck event ties into any other important historical date or series of events, again that enhances the story and the value of your Shipwreck Wine.
So let’s now take a look at what information was available from Christie’s on the Shipwreck Wine they had to sell. The wreck was in 40 meters of water (130 feet), found in the North Sea north of Hamburg. Divers recovered 14 bottles of wine in a wicker basket that was buried under the mud. One bottle was broken during salvage operations, another was used for testing. So two of twelve remaining bottles were to be sold by Christie’s at an estimated price of between $33,000 and $38,000 US for both bottles. The bottles had a new wax seal applied over the original cork and came with their own water tank for preservation purposes.
There is no information given as to the provenance of the wine, who owned the wine and why it was on a ship, and where it was being sent. So there is no story to accompany the wine. There is also very limited information on the wine itself, other than it was red, and probably French from Bordeaux.
We know the storage conditions were near perfect (130 feet deep, no light being buried under the mud, constant cold temperature, secure and not rolling around in the current). These conditions will have stopped almost all aging of the wine, so it should be drinkable, provided we had a good high quality wine to start with. The price seems right at $35,000.00 US for both bottles, given that Christie’s has no doubt researched price comparisons in the market. I am immediately thinking of the price of $275,000.00 US per bottle of 1907 Heidsieck Champagne that was meant for Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, but was torpedoed by a German submarine in 1917 and spent 80 years at the bottom of the Baltic Sea. (https://www.stlmag.com/What-its-Like-to-Sip-a-Century-Old-Champagne-From-a-Shipwreck/)
So what accounts for the difference in price between the 340 year old Bordeaux at $17,500.00 and the 110 year old Champagne at $275,000.00? Two reasons: first is knowing who made the wine (red Bordeaux maybe, verses Heidsieck), and second is what story goes with the wine (did anyone famous own it or did this wine represent an important moment in history?). Let’s assume that someone overpaid at $275,000.00 for the 110 year old Heidsieck Champagne, and that the real market value should be closer to $125,000.00. The Heidsieck Champagne is drinkable, as several tasting notes demonstrate, so that enhances the wine’s value. This leaves me wondering how much more the 340 year old Bordeaux red wine would be worth if it could be proven to come from a current first growth property like Chateau Haut Brion (virtually the only Bordeaux first growth red exporting their wine in the 1680’s). Would proving who the winemaker was double the wine’s value at auction today, or maybe even triple it?
And what about the story that goes with the wine? Without a decent story behind the wine, I agree with Christie’s that the wine is only worth $17,500.00. Now if their Shipwreck Wine was owned by a king, or for delivery to a king (as was the Heidsieck Champagne), then no doubt that too would also increase the price.
So I have been left wondering what the price of Christie’s Shipwreck Wine would be if it could be proven to be made by a top Bordeaux producer like Chateau Haut Brion. And dare I wonder how much higher the price would be if it could be proven to have belonged to a king or someone of similar such importance to history, and attached to some significant historical event? What if the bottles were even stamped in wax with a royal seal, well that would just be over the top. I think that $100,000.00 per bottle would not be out of line for such provenance in today’s market.
But enough day dreaming for now, that level of provenance just does not happen that often, if ever. So the chances of finding anything better than the Shipwreck Wine that Christie’s had to auction last June are very remote. So $35,000.00 for two bottles of their Shipwreck Wine that appears to be the ultimate, near perfect Trophy Wine, seems quite reasonable to me.
Now if I could only find out what happened to those two bottles Christie’s were supposed to have auctioned off last June. I contacted Christie’s in London and was told that the wines did not sell as the reserve bids were not met. So what was it about these two bottles that failed to excite the buyers into bidding up the price? Was it the fact that there was no provenance, no story about who owned the wine, where it was going and how the ship wrecked? Was it because the wine was offered for sale in it’s own water storage tank, not ideal for display in your personal cellar?
Or was it something simpler like the fact that the marketing for the sale of these wines at the wine auction only picked up steam a week before the auction? What about the fact that both wines sold together as one lot? Maybe they should have been sold separately. These wines should also have been offered for private sale rather than public auction, after all there were only two bottles for sale.
So the good news is that these near perfect Trophy Wines are still available for purchase, for the right price. Also, because of the failure to sell at Christie’s last June, that right price should be lower at the $12,500 – $15,000 US per bottle level.
The current owners are the Ocean X Team, a Swedish company that specialize in shipwreck salvage and ocean exploration. Their website address is (https://www.oceanxteam.com), their email address is firstname.lastname@example.org, they are led by Peter Lindberg and Dennis Asberg. Ocean X Team are not self financing, so they depend on the sale of artifacts to help fund their next expeditions. I am sure they would love to hear directly from interested buyers.
For anyone seriously interested in purchasing these wines, there are two great videos on the Ocean X Team website that should form part of your due diligence. The first one is a recorded tasting of the wine, (https://youtu.be/1Yj8Fx1Zf1g), which gives you plenty of information on the wine itself, the color, clarity, texture, condition of the cork, etc. So it is clearly drinkable, the wine looks like a rosé in color.
The second video shows film footage of the salvage and the wreck site itself, (https://youtu.be/481ckWgT_Io).
Those of you looking for the ultimate Trophy Wine to display in your prestigious wine cellar should look seriously at these two bottles of Shipwreck Wine. In my opinion the only way anyone will ever be able to improve on these is by finding another Shipwreck Wine just as old, in better condition (so as not to require storage in it’s own water tank), belonging to royalty, with a shipwreck story of significant historical importance attached to it. These do not come around often, if ever, and when they do, expect the price to snowball to $100,000.00 US plus, per bottle. So why not buy these wines now for 15% of that cost while you wait and continue looking for something even better to come along.
For now, the Ocean X Team’s Shipwreck Wine is, in my opinion, the Ultimate Trophy Wine, and still out there looking for a new cellar to call home. The thrill is in the hunt, so go for it, get in touch with Peter or Dennis now.