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Major wine heist in Spain: Restaurant owner issues plea to thieves

A Spanish restaurant owner has issued a plea to the thieves who stole French fine wine reported to be worth more than a million euros.

José Polo, co-owner and sommelier of the Michelin starred Atrio restaurant-hotel in Cáceres, Western Spain, has issued a plea to the thieves behind last week’s fine wine heist in which 45 bottles were stolen.

‘I would buy the wine back from the robbers, especially the 1806 Château D’Yquem,’ Polo told Decanter.

Polo revealed that 10 old vintages of Château d’Yquem and more than 20 Romanée-Conti, Burgundy wines, reported to be worth more than a million euros, were among the fine wines robbed from the Atrio’s prized wine cellar in the early hours of Wednesday, October 27th.

Polo said thieves had stolen 10 Château D’Yquem bottles from the 1806,1883,1884,1891,1899, 1900 and 1901 vintages.

As well as a bottle of La Tâche 1990, the thieves stole 24 bottles of Romanée Conti Burgundy wines from the following vintages: 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1997, 1989, 1999 2001, 2002, 2003, 2009 and 2012including several magnums.

Polo said thieves would have difficulty selling the wines on as they were all numbered.

‘Due to the rarity of these wines, some of which are very old vintages, it would be extremely difficult for these wines to be sold on,’ said a senior fine wine source at Christie’s auction house.

However, another industry source in London, who works with fine wine companies on counter-fraud issues, warned that it would be possible to sell the wines into an otherwise legitimate supply chain.

‘It’s less likely given the rarity of these bottles, but it may also be possible to slip them into a larger collection that is offered for sale at some point and hide their provenance amongst other, similar bottles, perhaps supported by forged documents. This might evade scrutiny, particularly if the buyer is not well-prepared,’ the source said.

Although the wines are identifiable on an open market, he warned that there were ‘always exceptions’ to the high levels of scrutiny undertaken by fine wine brokers.

Meanwhile, Polo said that the stolen wines had been insured prior to the robbery. ‘More than the bottles of wine, they robbed our dreams,’ he said.

Polo said the Atrio restaurant had recently sold a Romanée-Conti wine for €35,000 (£29,642), but he laid emphasis on the importance of the 1806 Château D’Yquem, worth €350,000 (£295,000), which he said had been a key part of the history of his team and Atrio.

Having acquired the bottle at Christie’s auction, winemakers at Château D’Yquem salvaged this wine in 2001, following a breakage near the neck of the bottle, by transferring the wine to another bottle.

Polo said that a womanaged in her forties, using a Swiss passport and wearing a wig, was accompanied by a man, who carried out the robbery.

‘It was the man who carried out the robbery. This was a very clean professional job, I think the couple had been hired to do the robbery,’ he said.

Rather like art theft, it is conceivable that the wines were stolen for an unscrupulous private collector and will disappear into a private collection. ‘There’s no geographic limit on the location of a potential buyer – pick a country or a super yacht,’ an industry source said.

Polo explained that Spanish forensic police from Madrid together with local police were investigating the crime.

‘This amount of wine – 45 bottles is a lot of wine – would be very heavy to carry and move, even when put into bags, and to think they just walked out of the hotel with this number of bottles is odd,’ another industry source commented.

During the night the couple rang reception asking for food. The robbery is reported to have occurred while the receptionist made a salad and dessert for the couple at around 1.30am.

‘Security cameras show how the man stole the wine and put it into bags before the couple left the hotel in the morning,’ Polo said.

‘They were able to break open the magnetic locks on the doors of the cellar,’ he added.

David Richardson, director of regulatory and commercial affairs at WSTA, said: ‘This is a distressing crime that appears to have been specifically targeted against this restaurant. Businesses in the fine wine sector world-wide will be on the look-out for these bottles. We hope that they are recovered soon, and the perpetrators apprehended.’

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