June 2, 2011

Lisboa tour: the best cellar I have ever seen

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KC and I received a very special treat this afternoon as part of our tour of Hotel Lisboa.  Knowing that I am a big wine geek, the PR manager arranged for us to tour the underground wine cellars of the hotel.  I was very, very excited... as this would be another highlight of this trip.

It's no secret that Hotel Lisboa has one of the best wine collections - if not the best - in Asia.  The hard copy version of the wine list is as thick as 2-3 volumes of an encyclopedia, but fortunately there is now an iPad version that's much easier to use.  There are some 7,800 labels within the list, and I could easily spend half an hour or more browsing through it without putting it down.  In fact, in the past I have searched through the list as it is available online, chosen that I wanted to drink for my meal, and have the sommelier prepare the wines prior to my arrival.  Joël Robuchon described it as "one of the best collections in the world", one that has depth in addition to breadth when it comes to rare gems.

We descended to one of the basement levels of the hotel, and enter an innocuous-looking door on the side of the corridor.  After going through another couple of doors, we finally come to the control room next to the first cellar door.  To gain entry, one must input a passcode as well as pass a fingerprint scan.

We enter the first of three cellars - each with a different temperature to suit the type of wines housed inside.

At first glance this is like any other warehouse, with metal racks stacked full of boxes, and staircases providing access to upper levels.  On closer inspection, however, the boxes are full of fine wines with names that we all recognize.  The upper level in this picture, for example, held cases upon cases of Screaming Eagle and Harlan Estate.

Turning my head to the side, I find the premium Champagne section... with a couple of rows full of Krug Clos d'Ambonnay, the ultra-rare offering that lists for MOP 40,000 or USD 5,000 a bottle.  I stood next to the shelf and pretended to lovingly stroke the boxes...

Entering cellar number 2, with is set at a slightly warmer temperature for longer-term aging.  Boring stuff like more recent vintages of Lafite-Rothschild, Petrus, Latour...etc. line the shelves.  I spent very little time here and walked straight through to the final destination.

The final room is the coldest, housing the rarest gems in the hotel's collection.  This was what I have been dying to see!

The section to my immediate right as I entered the room was vast collection of ultra-rare German Rieslings, which to me is probably THE highlight of the entire collection.  Not that my own collection is full of French First Growth Bordeaux from the trophy vintages like 1945, 1947 or 1961... but the reality is that if you had the money and wanted to buy some of those wines, it wouldn't be too difficult to get your hands on some.  Not so for the German Rieslings.  Many of the most sought-after Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA) wines are produced in extremely limited quantities, and very old vintages are nearly impossible to find.

This bottle of 1915 Schloss Schönborn Erbacher Marcobrunn Riesling TBA lists for a cool MOP 125,000, or about USD 15,600 per bottle, at the hotel.

In the January 31, 1999 issue of Wine Spectator, James Suckling and his fellow editors put together a 12-bottle case of what they coined as "Wines of the Century".  These were not necessarily the most expensive wines in the world, but what the editors felt were the greatest wines in the 20th century.  I knew that this cellar housed quite a few of the 12 wines, and went around the room looking for these gems...

I had already spotted a bottle of the 1921 d'Yquem on display at Robuchon a Galera yesterday.  This room housed another bottle that was bottled at the château, which lists for MOP 130,000 or about USD 16,300.  There were also a number of bottles which had been bottled by Belgian merchant Vandermeulen, selling for half the price of the château-bottling.

1961 Paul Jaboulet Hermitage La Chapelle - this has always been the one wine out of the 12 selections that I most wanted to drink, and I missed getting myself a bottle at a "reasonable" price years ago thanks to the expert advice of Mr. Pineapple...  Now selling for MOP 135,000 on the list...

1974 Heitz Martha's Vineyard - another one of the 12 that I considered picking up a few years ago.  Quite a bargain at MOP 22,000 a bottle...

The other "Wines of the Century" which appear on the wine list are:

1900 Margaux - MOP 168,000.

1945 Mouton-Rothschild - MOP 180,000.  Bottles from the Bordeaux merchant Mähler Besse lists for MOP 220,000.

1961 Pétrus - MOP 180,000.

1947 Cheval Blanc, bottled by Fourcaud-Laussac - MOP 115,000.

1955 Biondi-Santi Riserva - MOP 35,000.

As a Burgundy lover, one must not forget gems such as the 1959 Romanée-Conti, yours for MOP 340,000.

Finally, for those who follow the Japanese wine comic Les Gouttes de Dieu (神の雫)... the wine which Kanzaki Yutaka (神咲 豐多香) drank on his death bed... the 1959 Henri Jayer Richebourg.  I believe there are 10 (or was it 11?) bottles on the shelf here.  And no, I did not crack open a bottle as it is MOP 200,000 a pop...

Needless to say, I think this was quite an eye-opener for the both KC and I.  We were accompanied by no less than 4 of Hotel Lisboa's staff the whole time we were inside the cellars.  Since I know enough of about wines to identify the best bottles, I am sure they watched over my every move...  We did joke about our wish to spend the night in the cellar, but I don't think our hosts were very amused...

While I had the chance to visit the famed cellars of La Tour d'Argent in Paris almost 10 years ago, that visit was very brief and I wasn't able to get up close and personal with the real treasures of that particular cellar.  I think I will remember this visit for a very long time to come...

P.S.  Later on in the evening we got a close look at a couple of bottles of 80-year Moutai (茅台) which were bottled in 1915.  Selling for MOP 460,000 a bottle, there were four bottles in the cellar until a guest decided to crack one open... And then there were three...

3 comments:

HK Epicurus said...

Wow.

Amazing cellar - and only very educated Wine Lovers can identify the gems in there!

Fergie said...

1915 Moutai is a very important year for the Chinese rice wine. It was the year the bottles were exhibited in the World Expo in Europe (Barcelona, I think).

Anonymous said...

Judging by the pristine quality of the labels for very old wines, I would be very wary about buying some of these if the collection has been put together in recent years.

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