Experts Taste 19th Century Wines Hidden in Czech Castle
Old castles are always home to many treasures, be it the building’s architecture, the art and furniture inside, or the castle grounds itself. In Czech Republic, one particular castle was hiding a stash of liquid treasure in the form of wines.
They sat underneath the floorboards for decades– staying hidden, fermenting, and being witnesses to aristocratic opulence, Nazi occupation, cold war events, the Velvet Revolution and more.
The stash of 133 bottles of wine was found in 1985 in a secret underground niche in Becov Castle in the Czech Republic. It was discovered 40 years after being hidden by the Beaufort-Spontin family in a treasure hunt that pitted Communist-era law enforces against aristocrats.
Going by the adage ‘well worth the wait’, it was only this month that experts were able to sample a rare taste of the 19th-century wines. Sommeliers had a taste of the vino using Coravin, a technology that allows one to extract wine from the bottle without popping or damaging the cork. The gadget uses a needle to draw out the wine while keeping the cork intact and the liquid unaerated.
A Family Collection
The Beaufort-Spontin family, who were the last private owner and occupants of the Becov Castle, fled to Belgium following the end of the Second World War. They left the castle after being accused of being Nazi sympathisers.
Before fleeing, they stashed their valuable wines under the floorboard of the estate’s chapel to keep it away from the hands of plundering soldiers– and possibly, to take back the collection if they return to the castle one day.
The Czech government, however, took possession of the monastery and the castle in 1945, they were tipped off that there are valuable treasures hidden throughout the house. Authorities searched the property and stumbled upon the hidden stash.
The 133 bottles has since been in state possession and had remained forgotten, until recently when it was put up for valuation. The bottles are currently not for sale and are still under the possession of the Czech government.
The wines date mostly between 1856 and 1899, and includes Chateau d’Yquem vintages. Some of the bottles are currently valued at up to US$31,000 each or 750,000 crowns (CZK). Early estimates put the whole collection’s value at at least 30 million CZK or over US$1.2 million.
Tasting the 19th Century
Master of Wine Andreas Wickhoff, along with master sommelier Jakub Pribyl and other sommeliers said the age and size of the 150-year-old Beaufort-Spontin family stash was unique. This is because considering wines half as old often turn up spoiled.
The experts singled out for tasting a bottle of 1986 Chateau d’Yquem and an unlabelled bottle whose contents tasted “like flowers and sugar and caramel”.
“If you smell these wines they still have this purity of fruits,” said Wickhoff.
“There is acidity there. There are refreshing elements in these wines (that) will absolutely be an enjoyment,” he said.
Coravin creator Greg Lambrecht was invited to the tasting to test out his device. His main goal was to see if the wines are still drinkable and to see if the quality is still up to standards.
Lambrecht said the experience of drinking 150-year-old wines was “extraordinary”, with some vintages “truly life-changing.”
“It takes longer to pour the wines as a result, but they took a hundred years to get here so we can wait,” Lambrecht told Reuters.
“As soon as we poured it out, you could smell the wine, even from a metre away,” he said. “Most wines from the 1800s, as soon as you pour them, you have just minutes before they die. But this wine, from 1899, was perfect an hour-and-a-half later after we poured it,” Lambrecht was quoted by The Guardian as saying.
“It had this intensity which was awe-inspiring. And I thought to myself, ‘I have no idea how much they are going to auction these wines for, but if there was any way I could buy a bottle, I would pay everything I have’,” he added.
“These wines were in pristine condition, they were all perfect. From the first glass to the last that I poured my hands were shaking. They are an encapsulation of history; this wine has lived through two world wars, was seized by a communist government from a fascist government from a monarchy before that and are now released in a democracy. And literally, they were the best wines of my life,” Lambrecht continued.
The wines are a testament to the changing tastes of consumers from the 1800s, as many of the hidden bottles were either fortified or sweet, such as sherry and port. The collection also included the last existing bottles left in the world, including the only three bottles of the 1899 Chateau d’Yquem.
Other Hidden Treasures
The wine collection wasn’t the only treasure hidden in the castle and uncovered by the authorities in 1985. Nestled among the wine was the Shrine of Maurus, a jewel-encrusted house-shaped casket. It dates back to 1220 and is said to contain the bones of St. John the Baptist, Saint Timothy, with the remains of St. Maurus added later.
The reliquary is now on display for the public in the Becov Castle.