Home > History of Wine > “I wish I had a time machine!” : The rare Bordeaux and German offerings of MacArthur Beverages during Thanksgiving 1978

“I wish I had a time machine!” : The rare Bordeaux and German offerings of MacArthur Beverages during Thanksgiving 1978


In yesterday’s post “Certain opinionated turkeys disdain red wines on Thanksgiving Day”: A history of Thanksgiving wine recommendations from the 1930s through 1970s  you will find little hint of the rich wine offerings available in Washington, DC, during the 1970’s.  Towards the end of the 1970’s Washington, DC, had fully transitioned from being a liquor city to a wine city.  People were not just purchasing wine they were consuming it.  Statistics revealed that from lunch through dinner the Washington area was consuming wine on a daily basis at the rate of one and a half bottles per second in 1977.[1]  This rate was considered only the beginning of the wine boom.  To support such a boom a “new breed of wine merchant” had developed and those at MacArthur Liquors were considered the “prototype”.[1]

Addy Bassin of MacArthur Liquors, now MacArthur Beverages, considered himself “the father of the wine mania”.  The massive sales of wine were being fueled by a customer base supported by the two wealthiest counties in the country.  To meet the demand Addy Bassin not only bought wine from domestic merchants but also from negociants and auctions in Europe.  Addy Bassin was one of the largest buyers at both the Christie’s of London wine auctions and the Heublein Premier National Auction of Rare Wines in America.  In London alone, Addy Bassin had purchased over $1 million dollars of wine at auction in a two year period.  Christie’s even reserved #33 as Addy Bassin’s bidding number because he wore it on his high school football jersey.  Outside of Christie’s Addy Bassin would maintain a suite in a fine hotel where he met wine brokers every two hours for three days in a row.  He was not buying indiscriminately, Ruth Bassin noted, “If I don’t like them, he won’t buy them.”

"A WINE SALE". November 6, 1978.  Image used with the permission of MacArthur Beverages.

“A WINE SALE”. November 6, 1978. Image used with the permission of MacArthur Beverages.

The wines at MacArthur Liquors ranged from Californian jug wine through nearly two century old Bordeaux.  There was a customer base at all price points.  At the record breaking end, Addy Bassin purchased a jeroboam of 1929 Chateau Mouton-Rothschild for $10,000 at the Heublein auction in New Orleans during 1977.[3]  The client who ultimately purchased the wine allowed it to be displayed in a glass case at the store.  That price was shattered just a few months later when Addy Bassin purchased an 1806 Chateau Lafite for $14,450 at Christie’s of London.[4]

Addy Bassin did not advertise any specific Thanksgiving day wine recommendations.  He did however, run a wine sale in November 1978 packed full of rare and old Bordeaux as well as a breadth of German wines selected by Elliott Staren.[5]  The German wines offered were from the “twin great years” of 1975 and 1976.  The Bordeaux selections spanned 170 years with vintages primarily from the 20th century but also from the 19th century reaching back to 1806.  On the list appears the famous Jeroboam of 1928 Chateau Mouton-Rothschild at only a $1 markup.  Take a detailed look at the wine list and you get a glimpse at how well people could drink for Thanksgiving in Washington, DC.  What did the Bassins drink from this list?  For the Thanksgiving of 1980 the Bassin’s turkey and brisket were accompanied by 1959 Chateau Haut Brion.[6]


[0] Title quote from Phil Bernstein, MacArthur Beverages.
[1] “A Bubblier Import Market For America’s New Breed” By William Rice The Washington Post (1974-Current file); Feb 15, 1976; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Washington Post (1877-1997) pg. 143
[2] “THE WINE MERCHANTS” By Donnel Nunes The Washington Post (1974-Current file); Oct 16, 1977; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Washington Post (1877-1997) pg. 339
[3] “Don’t Drop That Bottle, It Could Cost You $10,000” By William Rice The Washington Post (1974-Current file); Sep 22, 1977; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Washington Post (1877-1997) pg. B11
[4] “A Record-Breaking Bottle of Claret” The Washington Post (1974-Current file); Sep 30, 1977; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Washington Post (1877-1997) pg. C10
[5] Display Ad 14 — No Title The Washington Post (1974-Current file); Nov 6, 1978; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Washington Post (1877-1997) pg. A15.  Image used with the permission of MacArthur Beverages.
[6] “For the Main Course” The Washington Post (1974-Current file); Nov 23, 1980;  ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Washington Post (1877-1997) pg. L8

  1. Peter Morrell
    November 26, 2014 at 10:11 am

    As Chairman of the vintners Morrell & Company in New York, we were on the front lines as well. In fact, I briefly held the world record price paid in 1970 at 220GBP ($528) for a DOUBLE MAGNUM (!) of 1865 Lafite Rothschild. Those were the days…

    • November 26, 2014 at 10:17 am

      That’s fabulous! Do you know who bottled it? Prices sure did escalate fast. I only looked at DC but I should look at the 1970s with a wider view.

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