Thousands of rare and ancient bottles – including Dom Pérignon 1921, La Mission Haut Brion 1929 and Romanée-Conti 1934 – go under the hammer at Christie’s New York in June.

The sale – ‘The Extraordinary Private Cellar of Doris Duke’- is mainly of Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne from the cellars of the tobacco heiress who died in 1993.

The collection was assembled in the 1930s and kept at the billionaire’s mansions, Duke Farms in Hillsborough, New Jersey and Shangri La in Honolulu. Christie’s calls it ‘a vinous time capsule’, encompassing some of the greatest years of the early part of the century, and stresses the cellars of the two houses provided perfect storage conditions.

As well as this, Duke and her husband kept meticulous records. ‘Researching this collection has brought this cellar to life: tracing the wine’s journey from initial invoices (in old French francs) and shipping dockets, through cellar inventories, and entertaining records,’ Michael Broadbent writes.

According to Christie’s, Duke’s importance as a wine buyer is evidenced by the fact she held some of the great vintages of the century. Only 100 cases of the Dom Perignon 1921 were shipped to America, for example – and Duke managed to buy 100 bottles. This was just after Prohibition, and there was no shortage of wealthy collectors eager for the best wines.

The 16 remaining bottles of Dom Perignon will go for an estimated US$500-700 each. Another extremely rare wine is 72 bottles of the Romanée-Conti 1934, described by Michael Broadbent as ‘the biggest vintage of the decade’, which should fetch US$2,800-4,000 per bottle.

One of the greatest wines in the collection, La Mission Haut Brion 1929, which Broadbent called ‘the epitome of elegance and finesse, the end of an era’, was dismissed by the Dukes as ‘not as fine’ as other clarets.

The contemporary cellar book suggests, ‘serve it for ordinary use when a claret is desired.’ Christie’s estimate US$8,500-11,000 per case, and there are also 30 magnums which are expected to go for US$9,000-14,000 per 6.

Other highlights include Château Latour 1929 (US$1,000-1,500 per bottle), Vosne-Romanée, Les Gaudichots, DRC 1929 (US$9,000-14,000 per case) and Château d’Yquem 1929 (US$800-1,100 per bottle).

The sale takes place at Christie’s New York on 4 June 2004.

NB US$1.00=€0.842

Written by Adam Lechmere