Fine and Rare Wines, Highlighted by the Massandra Collection, Bring $1.4-Million at Bonhams & Butterfields on December 1st

A rarity at auction in the United States – wines direct from the world-famous Massandra Collection — were exceedingly well-received Saturday, December 1, 2007 when Bonhams & Butterfields concluded one of its best years for sales of fine wines. The sale, simulcast between San Francisco and Los Angeles salesrooms, comprised more than 1,200 lots, and totaled nearly $1.42-million.

The Massandra winery, as its known today, was built in the Ukraine between 1894 and 1897 to serve Livadia Palace and Tsar Nicolas II. Its vast vineyards include a series of tunnels, some as long as 150 meters, dug deep into a mountainside, providing year-round controlled temperatures — perfect for the maturing of wines. Offered directly from the winery on these shores were more than 220 lots of Massandra wines – featuring Kagor, Madeira, Red Port, Sherry, Tokay and White Muscat, among others. According to Frank Martell, Bonhams’ international director for wine sales, in his auction catalog forward, Massandra simply does not produce any second-rate wine. With more than 10,000 hectares under vine, it can afford to be selective as to what wines will garner its esteemed label.

Bidding was global for the offering and multiple lots sold for two or three times the pre-sale estimates. A lot comprising six bottles of Massandra sweet wine, 2000, brought $1,404, more than three times its estimate, while a three-bottle lot of Rose Muscat, 1934, sold for $1,112 (est. $650/850). Tasting notes were written by Martell with glowing attributes the norm. A lot of five half-bottles of Red Port, 1896, brought $2,633 and had been adoringly described as “absolutely wicked.” The wine’s finish – or aftertaste – was described as “a lovely long lush decrescendo lasting more than one minute.”

Incredible was the range of the vintages of the Massandra consignment, some wines as recent as this century, while others were bottled in the 1880s, 1890s and nearly every decade between 1903 through the 1950s. A 700ml bottle of Tokay, 1895, sold for $3,045, doubling its estimate, and three bottles of 1938 White Muscat sold for $1,404 (est. $750/900).

As this was the first time the directors of the Massandra vineyards had decided to offer their wines in the US, Bonhams was honored to have been selected as the auctioneers. Frank Martel and Bonhams’ London-based wine specialist Richard Harvey had traveled to Yalta, Ukraine in the summer months and toured the facilities with General Director Nikolai Boiko, tasting as many as 80 different superlative wines and collaborating on which were to be offered.

Aside from the excitement surrounding the Massandra Collection, the December sale boasted a more traditional assortment of desirable lots and wine enthusiasts competed for those wines which routinely attract bidder attention, including Chateau Lafite Rothschild (a dozen bottles of 2000 brought $15,210), Chateau Mouton Rothschild (a dozen bottles of 1986 brought $9,945) and Chateau Latour (a dozen bottles of 2000 brought $11,700), to name but a few.

A lot of 12 bottles of Chateauneuf du Pape, 1989, sold above estimate for $2,633 while a magnum of Dalla Valle Vineyards 1995 Maya sold for $1,404. A six-bottle lot of Harlan Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, 2000, sold for $3,510 and a pair of bottles of 1988 Echezeaux brought $1,170. A single bottle of Grands Echezeaux, 1989, sold for $995 while three bottles of Colgin Cabernet Sauvignon, 1997, sold above estimate for $2,340. A bottle of LaTache, 1989, sold for $1,404.

Fine Wines uncork in 2008 with the Bonhams & Butterfields January 26, 2008 sale simulcast between LA and San Francisco. The auction catalog will be online in the weeks preceding the sale, tastings will be scheduled, details available online at