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Last Updated: Friday, 3 December, 2004, 20:31 GMT
Tsar's rare vintages sell badly
Vintage wine from Tsar Nicholas II's Crimean cellar
The wines sold for less than half of the estimated total of 500, 000
Some of the finest and rarest Russian wines ever to go on sale failed to sell well when they went under the hammer at auction house Sotheby's on Friday.

The vintages come from the Imperial winery at Massandra, near Yalta, on the southern coast of Crimea.

About 150 fortified and dessert wines made a total of 149,391 - less than half the 500,000 estimate.

They were blended to the tastes of Tsar Nicholas II and later Joseph Stalin, who added to the vast cellars.

Great expectations

Wine experts had high hopes for the collection prior to the auction.

However, only 195 lots were sold, leaving a further 327 items 'on the shelf' at the auction house in London.

Six hand-blown bottles of 1913 Kron Brother's Madeira, which bear the Tsar's personal seal, fetched the most money when they were sold for 4,140.

The highest price paid for a single bottle of wine was 2, 990.

The most expensive lots were bought by private bidders from Europe, Asia and North America, according to a Sotheby's spokesman.

The Imperial winery was built in the 1890s to supply wines for the tsar's summer palace at Livadia.

Twenty-one tunnels, each nearly 500ft (152 metres) long, took three years to dig into the mountainside and even now rank among the finest cellars in the world.

Legendary winemaker

The design, to keep the temperature constantly cool, involved carefully positioned air shafts, plus fresh spring water to create a natural humidity of about 90%.

Chief winemaker Prince Lev Sergeevich Golitzin's talent for blending wines was legendary.

However, his recipes for many of his greatest blends, including Honey of Altae Pastures and Seventh Heaven, died with him.

Joseph Stalin also played a role in preserving and adding to the cellars after being impressed with a sample.

When his troops stormed the gates of Massandra in 1920, Stalin decided to continue production.

Under the threat of Nazi invasion in 1941, the entire collection was removed from Yalta to three secret locations.

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