Visionary Catalonian chef Ferran Adria helped usher in the current era of experimental cuisine known as "molecular gastronomy" at elBulli, his restaurant boasting three Michelin stars on Spain's Costa Brava. Having closed elBulli last year, Adria now plans to put his fabled wine cellar up for auction at Sotheby's. The entire collection – more than 8,000 bottles – will go on the block for a total estimated value of $1.1 to $1.7 million.
The catalog for the two auctions, which will take place next Spring in New York and Hong Kong, already has master sommeliers like Roger Dagorn, of Tocqueville, in New York, "drooling."
Standout lots include five rare vintages of Romanee Conti, including three bottles of the 1990 vintage. Each bottle has an estimated value of $47,000. Last year, a case of 1990 Romanee-Conti sold to a Chinese collector for $297,400, a world record.
Other notable lots are 100 bottles and six different vintages of the iconic Vega Sicilia "Unico" from 1987, and 157 bottles of Pingus, a cult winery in Ribera de lDuero, planted with old vines of Spain's signature "noble" grape, Tinto Fino. One of the Pingus bottles, the Artadi Rioja Gandes Anadas '01, Sotheby's describes as "the "Rolls Royce" of Spanish vintages.
For his part, Dagorn has his eye on a bottle of Chateau de Beaucastel Blanc, which, he says, "I would pair with an angel hair pasta with uni."
There are affordable lots in the sale as well. A dozen bottles of Domaine de la Grange de Peres Rouge 2001 are expected to go for $600 to $800, while 12 bottles of Les Laquets Cahors 2000 are estimated at $200-$300.
The association with Adria and the closing of elBulli mean that any successful bidder will walk away with a status symbol and conversation piece as much as a highly drinkable bottle. "Sotheby's has held wine auctions of much higher value," said Serena Sutcliffe, head of Sotheby's international wine department, "but in terms of excitement about a collection, this one is definitely having wider ripples around the world."
Founded in 1961,elBulli is considered the best restaurant in the world – and Adria, who was hired in the mid-'80s, the finest chef. In market terms, if Adria were a stock, he would be Apple, with a long-term 'buy' rating from every tech analyst on Wall Street. He will now devote himself to his elBulli Foundation, "an experimental center looking at the process of culinary innovation," according to press materials. The results of the experiments will be shared on a new website, Bullipedia. The proceeds from the wine sale will go to the foundation.
Adria calls his cellar at elBulli "very personal." He created it with elBulli sommelier Juli Soler, who predated Adria and was, said Adria, "instrumental in bringing me to the restaurant 27 years ago."
Hong Kong, as a choice for the second auction, was greeted with surprise, but Sutcliffe said the venue was perfectly logical. "Asian wine collectors are very important to us, particular in Shanghai and Taipei, where participants tend towards live Internet bidding,rather than in person or over the telephone."
Sutcliffe said the usual private collectors from around the world would be motivated bidders, but she expects particular interest from Spain. "Obviously, they are very proud of their heritage and would certainly want to purchase some of this collection."
The interest in wines from respected chefs is running high after last month's auction of the cellar of Chicago restaurateur Charlie Trotter, which saw a 1945 Latour a Pomerol net $1.9 million at Christie's New York earlier this month.
Dagorn says Sotheby's auctions will bring equally avid buyers. "Not just because of the impeccable provenance and name recognition, but because of the pristine condition of elBulli's wine cellar. Without question, their bottles are in tip-top shape.For that reason alone, I expect bidding to be fierce."