Home > History of Wine > The old bottled vintages sold at Chateau Lafite in 1868

The old bottled vintages sold at Chateau Lafite in 1868

Chateau Lafite was sold on August 8, 1868, to the agents of Baron James de Rothschilds for 4,440,000 Francs.  During the sale the heirs of the original owners reserved the right to sell the furniture in the chateau and the wines in the cellars.  That fall the spectacular sale of 36 vintages in bottle and one in wood took place.  This selection represented a period of 69 years from 1797 through 1865 that were stored in the caveau and grand cave.  The vast majority of the wine was grand vin though there was also 1815 and 1864 second vin as well as 1859 Carruades.  Individual vintages were sold in multiple lots.

Carte Vinicole du Medoc. Image from Les Richesses Gastronomiques de la France, Les Vins de Bordeaux. [8]

Carte Vinicole du Medoc. Image from Les Richesses Gastronomiques de la France, Les Vins de Bordeaux. [8]

Details of the sale appear both in Bertall’s La vigne: Voyage Autour des Vins de France (1878) [1] and Maurice Dubois’ Mon Livre de Cave (1903) [2].  Each author presented the results with some difference so I have combined both to form the three tables below.  There are only two reported differences and that has to do with the quantity sold for the 1806 and 1826 vintages.  The differences are small and the quantities are within the sale magnitude.

Hotel des Princes et de la Paix. Image from Paris: nouveau guide de l'étranger et du Parisien. [11]

Hotel des Princes et de la Paix. Image from Paris: nouveau guide de l’étranger et du Parisien. [11]

The sale appears to have taken place during the first half of November 1868.[3]  The sale was conducted by M. Buffard, clerk for the justice of the peace in Pauillac, Charlot, an auctioneer from Bordeaux, and MM. Tatset et Merman, brokers.  The wines were sold as-is without any tasting and required a 5 Franc per 100  Franc commission.  The bidding was furious and was described as a steeple chase.  Within three hours the wines were all sold.  Half of the wines were purchased by Baron James de Rothschild[4] with the remaining majority by M. Gremailly, proprietor of Hotel des Princes et de la Paix in Bordeaux, and M. Delhomme, of Paris Cafe Anglais.[5]

M. Gremailly. Image from Bertall’s La Vigne. [1]

The wines purchased by Baron James de Rothschild were returned to the caveau at Chateau Lafite.  Those purchased by M. Gremailly were displayed in his very own Le Musee Gremailly.  Here the wines were located in a library-like setting, carefully arranged on many shelves.  The wines were arranged by vintage and apparently stated their purchase price.  The museum remained open through at least 1896 though there were doubts about how drinkable the wines remained.[6]

Le Musee Gremailly. Image from Bertall’s La Vigne. [1]

There might have been some published precedent for this doubt to exist.  M. Bignon’s Cafe Riche was considered one of the “most celebrated” restaurants in Paris as well as one of the most expensive.  Both the cuisine and the cellar of wines were internationally famous.  The cellar contained such old bottles as 1811 Cote d’Or and 1819 Sauternes during the fall of 1874.[10]  It was only natural then that M. Bignon was present at M. Gremailly’s “rather curious sale” of wine from the cellar of his Hotel des Princes et de la Paix held in 1877.  M. Bignon purchased several of these old vintages of Chateau Lafite including two bottles of the 1811 Comet vintage.  Whereas this vintage originally sold for 121 Francs M. Bignon paid 320 Francs each.[7]

Le Cafe Riche. c. 1890. Image from Wikimedia.

Le Cafe Riche. c. 1890. Image from Wikimedia.


During the 1878 Paris Exposition, Prince Giedroyc hosted a grand dinner for members of the wine tasting jury at Cafe Riche.  It was here that M. Bignon opened up a bottle of the 1811 Chateau Lafite.  He poured this wine “to demonstrate to you  the solidity of our famous French wines and the immense value they acquire with age.”  Vizetelly noted that “some specimens” were opened at the dinner and the “wine had become almost tasteless, and had entirely lost its perfume, though it still retained its roseate purple hue.”

Wine sold “Dans le caveau”

1797 grand vin 7 12
1798 grand vin 9 16
1799 grand vin 13 12
1801 grand vin 8 10
1802 grand vin 6 10
1803 grand vin 69 11
1805 grand vin 147 10, 11, 12, 13
1806 grand vin 65 or 64 9, 10
1807 grand vin 9 12
1808 grand vin 24 10, 11
1810 grand vin 17 10
1811 grand vin 21 76, 121
1814 grand vin 27 11, 13
1815 grand vin 35 26, 30, 31
1815 second vin 37 unknown
1819 grand vin 32 20, 21, 22
1820 grand vin 69 13, 14, 16
1822 grand vin 47 15, 16
1823 grand vin 33 42, 52, 60
1825 grand vin 96 31, 32, 36
1826 grand vin 98 or 94 6, 7
1827 grand vin 51 15, 18, 21
1830 grand vin 117 8, 19
1831 grand vin 58 11, 13
1832 grand vin 128 11, 12, 13
1834 grand vin 47 61, 70
1838 grand vin 107 6, 10
1844 grand vin 131 12, 13
1846 grand vin 265 13, 23, 26
1848 grand vin 191 51, 60, 62, 65
1854 grand vin 224 14, 15
1857 grand vin 65 14, 15
1858 grand vin 195 30, 36, 41
1859 Carruades 283 11, 12
1864 grand vin 274 18, 19, 30
1864 second vin 274 9, 10

Wine sold “Dans le grande cave”

1846 grand vin 288 26, 27, 28
1861 grand vin 727 7, 8, 9, 10
1863 grand vin 141 6, 7
1864 grand vin 817 15, 16, 17, 18

Wine sold “Vins en futs”

1865 grand vin 6 barriques 2,850 and 3,000


[1] Bertall. La Vigne: voyage autour des vins de France. 1878. URL: http://books.google.com/books?id=8To3AQAAIAAJ&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false
[2] Dubois, Maurice. Mon Livre de Cave. 1903. URL: http://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=uc1.31175014577863;view=1up;seq=1
[3] Bertall writes that the sale took place after the death of Count Duchatel on November 16, 1868.  However the Journal of the Society of Arts published sales results on November 13, 1868.
[4] Vizetelly, Ernest Alfred. The Wines of France. 1908. URL: http://books.google.com/books?id=2iw7AQAAMAAJ&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false
[5] Ray, Cyril. Lafite. Christie’s Wine Publications. 1985.
[6] De Nansouty, Max. La Vie Scientifique. 1896. URL: http://books.google.com/books?id=ZWKAyrpE1REC&pg=PR5-IA1#v=onepage&q&f=false
[7] “Wine at $62 a Bottle” Date: Saturday, August 24, 1878 Paper: Times-Picayune (New Orleans, LA) Page: 2
[8] De Lorbac, Charles. Les Richesses Gastronomiques de la France, Les Vins de Bordeaux. 1868. URL: https://archive.org/details/richessesgastron00unse
[9] Revue des vins et liqueurs et des produits alimentaires pour l’exportation… 1877. Gallica Bibliotheque Numerique. URL: http://catalogue.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/cb410434488
[10] Appletons’ Journal: A Magazine of General Literature, Volume 12. 1874. URL: http://books.google.com/books?id=RjA-AQAAMAAJ&pg=PP1#v=onepage&q&f=false
[11] Joanne, Adolphe. Paris: nouveau guide de l’étranger et du Parisien. 1867. Gallica Bibliotheque Numerique. URL: http://catalogue.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/cb342175983

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