Tsar’s wines up for auction

  • Wednesday 13 October 2004

Over 450 lots of old and rare wines from the Imperial Russian cellars are to be auctioned this December at Sotheby’s in London.

Wines with WWII evacuation numbers (Sotheby's)

The collection, worth an estimated £500,000, comes from the cellars of the Massandra winery, just outside the Crimean resort of Yalta on the Black Sea.

The cellars and winery were founded by Tsar Nicholas II in 1894 and contain a record-breaking one million bottles of wine. The cellars survived decades of turmoil just after the Russian revolution when the cellar entrances were bricked up. Stalin was so impressed by the wines he had them preserved and when the threat of Nazi occupation loomed, the entire cellar was evacuated, mainly to Georgia.

The wines from Massandra have only come up for auction three times in recent memory. According to Mitzi Mina of Sotheby’s, the auctions in 1990, 1991 and 2001 enabled the winery to make important investments.

The winery mostly produces regional sweet wines, but the cellars also contained examples of French and Spanish wines such as 1848 Paharet Sherry and 4 bottles of 1869 Château du Vigneau Sauternes.

The majority of lots, however, will be of regional sweet wines originally produced under the direction of Prince Lev Golitzin. In the late 19th and early 20th century, Golitzin experimented with a range of different sweet wine styles including Port, Tokaji, Madeira and Malaga. Some of these are listed in the sale, including an 1895 Livadia White Port made from Cabernet Sauvignon and named after the Imperial Russian palace in Yalta.

A more contemporary wine to feature in the auction is a 1990 Alushta dry red wine, reputedly a favourite of Russian premier Vladimir Putin. Another example of the dry wines of the region is a two-bottle lot of 1891 Riesling. Head winemaker Galina Mytyayeva was initially going to keep the Riesling as an oddity but Richard O’Mahony of Sotheby’s found it ‘rather good’.

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