Austerity auction: Elysee Palace's wine cellar put on the block

Austerity auction: Elysee Palace's wine cellar put on the block
French President Francois Holland is selling vintage bottles of wine usually reserved for high-ranked guests in an unprecedented auction of the Elysee Palace cellar. The belt-tightening measure comes amid continuing austerity in Europe.

About 1,200 vintage bottles, which make up a tenth of the Elysee's wine collection, are to be sold at Drouot house in Paris in a two-day auction of France's national heritage starting on Thursday.
 
The money raised from the liquid jewels of the presidential palace’s cellars are to be used to replenish the collection with younger, more modest wines to make sure the president has enough wine to entertain his guests - kings, queens and other heads of state - without drawing too heavily on public resources. The excess money will go to the country’s budget.

Wine lovers from all over the world have already contacted the Drouot auction house ahead of the first sale of the Elysee Palace wine cellar, said the auctioneers.

"This is exceptional because this is the first time that the Elysee put its bottles on sale," said auctioneer Ghislaine Kapandji of the Kapandji Morhange house.
 
All of the bottles are labeled with the mark of the Elysee Palace and the date of the auction, which adds to their value.
 
"I think that's a bonus for buyers, because that's a way for them to be sure that these bottles have always been stocked in the cellar of the Elysee," Kapanji added, noting that it guarantees "good preservation conditions."
 
The bottles come from vineyards mostly in Burgundy and Bordeaux – the most famous wine regions in France, but there are also offerings from Alsace, the Loire department and the Rhone valley.

French President Francois Hollande (AFP Photo / Pool)

The estimated price for a bottle ranges from 20 euro to 2,500 ($25 to $3,235), including  the oldest bottle of Chateau Latour dating back to 1936 and coming from one of the most famous estates of the Bordeaux region, a 1990 Petrus and a batch of 1985 Romanee wines.

Bottles of cognac and champagne with the inscription "presidency of the French Republic" should also attract wine lovers.

A part of the wine collection was available in too small quantities to be served in grand dinners organized at the Elysee, so Virginie Routis, head sommelier at the Elysee, said that they are ready to be drunk immediately.

The auction is expected to collect more than 250,000 euro ($325,000), according to a statement from the auction house.

However, some experts say that the auction has more of a political meaning, amid the recession and the growing unpopularity of the socialist president.

This is a largely symbolic affair and more of a publicity stunt than a really important wine sale,” said David Ridgway, sommelier of the Michelin-starred Tour d’Argent restaurant in Paris, FRANCE 24 reports. “There isn’t anything really exceptional up for sale here – the media value is much greater than the actual value of the wines.”

The French president's office is not the first to auction wines to raise funds. In March, the British government sold around 50 bottles from its cellar with Christie's, collecting around $114,000.

The Elysee Palace wine cellar was established in 1947, under the chairmanship of president Vincent Auriol, and refurbished in 1995 to allow optimal wine storage.