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Sale of a Champagne socialist

Published:  23 July, 2008

On 14 June, late French President Franois Mitterand's wine cellar was auctioned for €14,683 at the Htel Drouot in Paris.

While the collection was surprisingly modest for a French dignitary who hailed from Cognac country, the office of auctioneer Thierry de Maigret was nonetheless pleased with the results. Many bottles went for more than double their estimate.

Part of a larger sale of 796 lots, Mitterand's 46 lots comprised a somewhat random collection of one or two bottles and magnums each, the oldest of which was an 1865 Fine Champagne Delamain Cognac in its original case, estimated at €300, which went for €766 (All figures include applicable fees.) before taxes and fees. There were also various Bordeaux, including a magnum of 1986 d'Yquem, estimated at €350, which went for €590.

Obviously, the name behind the cellar was a big draw,' said Cyril Duval, who works with Matre de Maigret. We had many people who were there because of their interest in history.' Though Mitterand famously drank Coca-Cola at public functions, according to Duval Mitterand's family says he drank mostly water'.

Duval advised that most of the cellar's contents were gifts, such as a 1957 Fonseca Port (estimated at €40, sold for €150), which was offered by Portugal to commemorate France's entry into the EU in 1985.

While the celebrity factor may have added a slight frisson, Simon Quinn of UK wine merchant H & H Bancroft pointed out that as few of the bottles were rare or intrinsically valuable, many were sold for market rate. There is plenty of 1990 Mouton-Rothschild around - six bottles with no specified provenance are currently available for about 625, so €1000 is just about right. I would have thought that in France, people would have paid a bit more . But at the end of the day, they weren't getting something with his signature.'