Cash woes force wine auction in France

PARIS — The dreaded phantasm of economic austerity has finally knocked its bony fingers on the door of the Elysee Palace, which announced Tuesday that it would auction off 1,200 bottles of its finest wines, renew its cellar with ‘‘more modest’’ vintages, and return the surplus to the state budget.

President Francois Hollande, a Socialist who was elected a year ago, has made a point of trying to be a ‘‘normal president’’ and contrast his simpler style with the ‘‘bling bling’’ image of his predecessor, Nicolas Sarkozy. He has trimmed the presidential and ministerial fleet of cars, pushing for smaller hybrids, and has cut ministerial salaries.

The wine cellars of the Elysee are rightly famous for showcasing the best of French wines, however, and although Hollande has offered guests a knowledgeably chosen selection of more modest wines, selling some of the older stock is a bit like selling grandmother’s silver.


The last Socialist president, Francois Mitterrand, was well known for his love of Burgundy and for a St.-Estephe, Haut-Marbuzet. Georges Pompidou was said to love Chasse-Spleen, while Valery Giscard d’Estaing favored fine Bordeaux from the Medoc. Jacques Chirac, who had high tastes in art and wine, with a fondness for Dom Perignon, preferred to be seen in public drinking beer.

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Given the size of the deficit, this auction represents just drops in the bucket — highly exclusive drops.

Among the wines to be auctioned at the end of the month at the Hotel Drouot, through the Paris auction house Kapandji Morhange, are three bottles of 1990 Chateau Petrus, estimated to be worth $3,000 to $3,400 a bottle, and a 1998 Meursault Premier Cru, a fine white Burgundy. There will also be bottles of 1975 Chateau Lafite Rothschild, estimated at more than $1,000 each, and 1985 Krug Champagne, as well as champagne from Salon, some of the world’s rarest and most expensive.

The bottles being sold make up just a tenth of the presidential cellars. Lesser bottles will be sold too, with some expected to start at as little as $20 and many available for less austere prices of less than $130.

New York Times