Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Sir Alex Ferguson’s Aladdin’s Cave

I received an international DHL Express package yesterday, and momentarily wondered what was in it.  It felt like a smallish A4 book, but turned out to be the most amazing catalogue of Fine and Rare wines to be auctioned by Christie’s in Hong Kong on May 24, London June 5, and online June 9-23.  I commenced buying wine from Christie’s in the late 1960s, but when I left my partnership earnings behind me when I ceased to practise law in 1988, my purchases have been few and far between.  There were the golden years when wine was relatively cheap, the exchange rate was very much in Australia’s favour, and I had my lawyer’s salary, thus accumulating what at the time was a pretty good wine cellar.  I have been steadily drinking my way through it, 99 times out of 100 with friends in one theatre or another.

But, when I got over the shock of finding the auction was ‘From the Collection of Sir Alex Ferguson CBE’ (note, not the Collection, simply from the collection), I opened the catalogue to find an unbelievable Aladdin’s cave of 3000 bottles of the greatest wine produced in France (and Italy) since 1986.  But wait: the catalogue is printed in English and Mandarin, and all of the lots are woven through Ferguson’s career as manager of Manchester United.  Eight being a lucky number for the Chinese, the lots started with 8001.  This Lot was a simple imperial of ‘86 Chateau Lafite, but gained traction with the next 15 lots, each 12 bottles of 1988 Chateau Petrus.  Petrus features continuously woven through the catalogue, rubbing shoulders with Romanée-Conti of the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and eight vintages of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Montrachet, every bit as rare and expensive as Romanée-Conti.

The catalogue is arranged in vintage order, the index on pages 104 and 105 showing Ferguson only purchased Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and (of much lesser amounts) de Vogue Burgundies.  The purchases of the Domaine wines got underway with the 1990 vintage, and included steadily increasing amounts of each of the Grand Crus owned by the Domaine.

Bordeaux is represented by Petrus, the crème de la crème of Pomerol, and, of course, lots of First Growth Bordeaux.  Italy is represented by Gaja, Sassicaia and Ornellaia.

Purchasers of various lots get personally-signed (no shortcuts) memorabilia of Manchester United.

I know this is a long blog, but I have to repeat part of the conversation between David Elswood of Christie’s and Ferguson:
David Elswood: Sir Alex, may we welcome you to Christie’s.  Where did a busy football manager travelling all around the world get a chance to first become interested in wine?

Sir Alex Ferguson: It started in 1991.  I went to Montpellier, to assess the hotels for us staying in the quarter final European Cup Winners’ Cup, and I stayed in this small hotel, the ‘Maison Blanche’, and the owner, we got talking away and he says, ‘would you like lunch?’  And I says, ‘yeah, okay, let’s.’  So we go to this restaurant, there’s a showcase window, and they’ve got a bottle of Petrus and a bottle of Chateau d’Yquem.  He says to me, ‘Are you interested in wine?’  I say ‘Well, I like a glass of red wine, yes.  I don’t really know much about it.’  He says, ‘Invest in ‘82s and ‘85s.  You won’t go wrong.’  I was at a lunch not so long after, maybe about ‘93, and I was speaking to a chap there from Willoughby’s Wines in Manchester, and I was telling him the story, and he said, ‘Yeah, ‘85s, ‘82s, definitely.’  So I invested then, and that really kicked my on to where we are today.

DE: So your collecting started with  Bordeaux.  Clearly you then moved in to Burgundy and to some Italian wines.  Does that reflect what you like to drink at home?

AF: Yeah, well we’ve plenty in the house, quite a lot of Ornellaia and a lot of Tignanello.  Tignanello’s one of the real underrated Italian wines.  I’ve got Sassicaia, I’ve got the Petrus and I’ve got Haut Brions and Cheval Blancs.  I’ve got enough there for hopefully to last me quite a few years.

DE: Wine is all about vintages, it’s all about years, and particularly in your collection you have Burgundy in strength and depth from a great producer, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, particularly the ‘99 vintage.  Now obviously in your life in 1999, important things were happening.

AF: It was the greatest time of my life.  People keep saying, ‘What was the best moment of your life as a manager?’ and ‘99 is without question.  There was always this thing about my career that I never had won the Champion’s League, so to win it in the way we did win it was absolutely fantastically special.  And it coincided with a vintage; you were were talking about Romanée-Conti, ‘99, a really special year.  I think we deserved that!

A weighted average price per bottle has to be more than $2000, but even at this conservative level, this is a $6 million cellar.  Oh, and by the way, if you buy six bottles of 1991 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Richebourg you get a Manchester United retro shirt from 1991 signed ‘Best wishes, Alex Ferguson’, but if you buy one bottle of Romanée-Conti from the same vintage, you get a card signed ‘Best wishes, Alex Ferguson.’

It seems that Ferguson has either consumed or sold that part of the Collection prior to 1996.

You can view the catalogue at

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