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Last Updated: Friday, 3 December, 2004, 12:30 GMT
Tsar's rare vintages up for sale
Vintage wine from Tsar Nicholas II's Crimean cellar
The vintage wine is expected to sell for 500,000
Some of the finest and rarest Russian wines ever to go on sale could fetch up to 4,000 a bottle, according to auction house Sotheby's.

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

About 150 fortified and dessert wines are expected to fetch over 500,000 when auctioned in London on Friday.

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

The 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.

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%.

'Sensational'

Richard O'Mahoney, of Sotheby's, said the granite rocks of the winery had ensured perfect storage conditions for the wines over so many years.

"These wines are just so unique, they just can't be pigeonholed. They're amazing wines."

He said he hoped buyers would drink the wine rather than just keeping bottles in their cellar and admiring them.

"I would drink it," he said.

"I had the amazing good fortune to go to Crimea in July with a colleague this year, and we tasted over 200 wines.

"There were a few dry white wines that hadn't really kept, but otherwise every single wine was sensational."

Legendary winemaker

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.




SEE ALSO:
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