If you were alive in 1762, you might have noticed a few things going on. Britain entered the Seven Years’ War against Spain and Naples, Catherine II became empress of Russia, and the first Saint Patrick’s Day Parade was held in New York City.
More importantly for our story, the Maison Gautier in France were distilling a Cognac that would today fetch £118,580 (or $US144,525) at auction through Sotheby’s.
You see, that year, the Maison Gautier, had only seven years previously obtained a Royal Warrant to produce Cognac, with a founding charter signed by the King Louis XV. But it was not only the preferred but also the providence that made this bottle special.
Only three bottles of the exceedingly rare Gautier Cognac 1762 remain to this day, having been held in the same family for generations with their original labels attached.
The owner recalls that as a child, his grandfather prevented him from playing in the cellar which contained his oldest bottles of Cognac. It was only many years later he learned the history of the treasure that had been carefully preserved by his family.
During the 19th century, his great grandparents fostered an orphan by the name of Alphonse who, in the years between 1870 and 1880, left his adopted family to work in the Cognac region. Returning home after ten years, Alphonse may have left due to the phylloxera crisis which had decimated the vines and consequently wiped out all the economic activity linked to the production of wine and brandies at the time.
When Alphonse arrived home to his adoptive parents, he carried with him a cart loaded with bottles of Cognac, presumably acquired in lieu of wages. The bottles were unloaded, most of which were soiled, but amongst them were three Maison Gautier Cognacs, with their labels in pristine condition: the little sister, the little brother and the big brother – as they are known now.
In 1914, Alphonse was sent to war and unfortunately never returned but the bottles remain with the family.
Until, of course, Sotheby’s online auction, where the 70cl bottle of 1762 Gautier gain the distinction of becoming ‘the oldest Cognac vintage ever sold at auction’ while simultaneously setting ‘a new auction record for a bottle of Cognac’.
The bottle, which has survived more than 250 years of history, including the turbulence of the French Revolution, was bought by a bidder from Asia, and further underlined how rare spirits have become a sought-after possession for more collectors in recent years.
The auction house’s spirits specialist Jonny Fowle said the 258-year-old Cognac should still taste good and will have “maintained its character”.
The auctioned bottle was opened in 2014 “but I’ve not been lucky enough to taste it,” he said.
“By all accounts it was enjoyed. (The) condition of the bottle is really good – there’s not been that much evaporation. We can assume the alcohol level in it is pretty high and that would have acted as a preservative for hundreds of years.
The winning bidding will also enjoy a bespoke experience at Maison Gautier, courtesy of the distillery.