- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 9, 2009

PARIS | A bottle of Vieux cognac dating back to 1788 — the year before the French Revolution — sold at a Paris auction of wine and spirits for $36,935.

Paris’ landmark Tour d’Argent restaurant has cleaned out its cellar — considered one of the best and biggest in the world — putting 18,000 bottles up for auction. The two-day sale, which ended Tuesday, had been expected to bring in $1.47 million, and bidders eventually spent $2,267,775, the Piasa auction house said.

Wine lovers from China to Russia to the United States bid for a chance at rare treasures. To put things in perspective, the pricey Vieux Cognac Le Clos du Griffier dates to 1788, when Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette were still living at the royal palace at Versailles and would not be guillotined for another five years.

Wines can’t withstand the passing years as well as spirits like cognac, and the reds and whites on sale were younger and netted more modest prices. Twelve half-bottles of 1989 Chateau Haut-Brion went for a total of $8,922. A lot of six bottles of Vosne-Romanee from 1988 netted $9,290.

The restaurant donated proceeds from the $36,935 bottle of 1788 cognac to the Association Petits Princes, a French charity that grants the wishes of ailing children. The Tour d’Argent, which means “Tower of Silver,” is keeping the rest of the money from the sale, which may be used for renovations. Two additional bottles of the historic 1788 cognac sold for $30, 965 and $27,323.

Despite the sale of thousands of bottles, there are still about 432,000 bottles stacked floor to ceiling under the restaurant in a succession of caverns. The auction’s goal was to cut down on wines the restaurant has in multiples so it can vary and modernize its selection.

The Left Bank restaurant, known for pressed duck and views of Notre Dame, dates to 1582. It was once the summit of French gastronomy, attracting royalty, politicians and film stars.

But recent years have brought tougher times. Longtime owner Claude Terrail died in 2006, and his 29-year-old son Andre now runs it. The restaurant, where a prix fixe lunch menu costs $95 and a tasting menu at dinner goes for $235, long held three Michelin stars but is now down to one.


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