French presidential wine goes up for sale

Posted at 9:05 PM, May 31, 2013
and last updated 2013-05-31 18:14:45-04

By Laura Smith-Spark, CNN

(CNN) -- In what country would the presidential palace auction off some of its finest wines to buy more wine and boost state coffers?

France, bien sûr!

The Élysée Palace -- the official residence of the French president -- has dipped into its wine cellars and put 1,200 bottles up for auction in Paris.

Mainly from Bordeaux and Burgundy, the wines would normally have been served to ambassadors or visiting dignitaries as they dined with the president, showing off the finest of French viticulture in the process.

The funds raised will allow the renewal of the palace's wine stocks, auction house Drouot said.

"More modest" wines will be bought in place of some of the fine vintages put under the hammer, with any extra money left poured back into the state budget, it said.

The Élysée's head sommelier, Virginie Routis, picked the wines to be auctioned off in two sales, on Thursday and Friday.

The 1,200 bottles represent about a tenth of the cellar's total stocks. Some date back decades, while others are newer but represent great vintages.

The auction house expects the bids to range between 15 euros ($19) for the most ordinary and an estimated 2,200 euros ($2,800) for a 1990 Petrus.

Many bidders should be able to get their hands on a bottle for less than 100 euros, the auction house said.

All the bottles auctioned off will sport a label stating that they came from the Élysée Palace, with the date of their sale, according to CNN affiliate BFMTV.

The palace cellar was set up in 1947, during the presidency of Vincent Auriol, and was reorganized in 1995 to ensure the best conditions for keeping the wines.

Built up over decades, it includes wines from Alsace, the Champagne region, the Rhône Valley and the Loire alongside those from Burgundy and Bordeaux.

"All these wines were served at the table of the President of the Republic, and some of them have accompanied important moments in the history of the Fifth Republic," said Drouot.

The Fifth Republic was established in 1958 and continues to this day, under President François Hollande.

Elected last year, he has sought to boost tax revenues from the wealthy to try to cut France's large deficit.

The history and associations of the Élysée wine may be expected to push prices up beyond what would be paid for similar bottles sold elsewhere.

Chris Smith, investment manager at the Wine Investment Fund in London, told CNN the Élysée Palace auction would be likely to draw buyers who are attracted by the kudos of the wines' provenance rather than serious investors.

The wines are mostly mature and ready to be drunk sooner rather than later, which makes them less of an investment buy, he said, although the 1990 Petrus is a very good wine.

"The wine is not especially rare or unusual -- they are the sort of wines that crop up at auction every now or then," he said. "The fact that they are from the Élysée Palace gives them a certain sort of extra kudos that people may be prepared to pay a small premium for."

A recent sale from the cellars of the UK government saw just that effect, Smith said, with wines fetching more than might have been expected.

This was in part because of their good provenance, he said, but also because they "have that slight cachet that wines from the same stock that's been drunk by President Obama, or whoever's drunk the poshest wine from the cellars, have."