It has been said that “a bottle of wine begs to be shared” but for one unsuspecting Nedlands resident this little adage was taken a sip too far.
Leafing through the pages of Decanter magazine, long-time wine connoisseur David Krantz stumbled upon a rapturous piece of information. It involved something in his collection.
He had stocked his Crawley cellar with some of the great names in wine, including the Premier Cru Supérieur, Chateau d’Yquem, irrefutably the world’s best dessert wine.
Back in 1970, David’s local wine merchant had run a special offer on the 1967 d’Yquem for $13 a bottle, so he decided to snap up half a dozen. The wine was obviously little known in Australia at the time, but it seemed like a fair deal for the tasty tipple.
In the intervening decades he would occasionally slip into the cellar and emerge with a dusty bottle of the d’Yquem. His son Peter and others were pleased to help him polish off the odd bot of the wine known as “The Golden Nectar of Sauternes”.
“I couldn’t believe what I saw in Decanter,” David tells The Starfish. “It said the 1967 Chateau d’Yquem was worth around $3000 a bottle. You can image I was pretty excited, even though I only had one bottle left.
“I told my son and he said, ‘What, you mean we’ve guzzled down $15,000 worth of wine in just five bottles?!’”
You Dirty Rats
David toyed with the idea of transporting his precious possession to London and flogging it to the highest bidder.
But, due to the wine crossing the equator twice and not being stored by the case in the prone position, possibly lowering the value, he decided against a pilgrimage to the Old Dart. Instead he settled for sharing the rare and pricey drop with his lucky wine appreciation club associates – quite a treat forty years after the vintage.
“The club meeting date came around and I went down to the cellar to get the wine. When I got down there I was baffled to see little pieces of foil strewn around the floor,” he said.
He wasn’t mystified for long. David’s gaze soon fell upon his prized bottle of 1967 Chateau d’Yquem. It seems some one – or thing – had beaten him to the prize.
“It was the rats,” he shudders. “They had come up from the river, burrowed into the cellar and tackled the d’Yquem…”
“They used their claws and teeth to scratch away the foil and about three-quarters of the cork. You get sugar crystals in the perforation holes in the foil, so that’s probably what attracted them and started them after what was in the rest of the bottle.
“The remainder of the cork had drifted into the bottle, and the wine had poured out on the floor, leaving only the small amount below the shoulder,” he recalls in a quavering voice.
Taking stock of the vinous disaster before him, David wasn’t going to be deterred by a pack of pilfering vermin, albeit with highly refined tastes in Bordeaux. At $3000 a shot, he raised the bottle to his trembling lips for a nip of the remaining liquid.
“I felt I had to taste the wine, just one sip, to see how it had withstood the years. But then I was overcome with the dreadful realisation that I might get bubonic plague, so even that was joyless.”
Staggering out of the cellar David said his wife Val told him he was “ashen-faced” and asked if he was all right.
No doubt there were several jubilant rodents down by the river that fateful night, if a little squiffy.
Not the Burgundy, Too?
Regrettably it wasn’t the first time David had encountered uncharitable rats in his cellar. Yet unlike the abovementioned marauders with a penchant for high-end Bordeaux, the earlier intruders seemed more drawn to the subtler pleasures of the red wines of northern France.
“I had bought a selection of very good Burgundies from the late Len Evans while in Sydney in 1974,” he recalls a little whimsically. “There was some really first class wines and we enjoyed them greatly over the years.”
While the rats evidently had a liking for fine wines, their eclectic tastes also ran the lengthy rodent gamut to more earthy, less choice fare, according to David.
“In those days they made the glue they used for the wine labels out of horse hoofs, which appeared to be a favourite snack for the rats – in fact they loved it.
“I went down to the cellar to select a bottle and found that they had gnawed the labels off all the Burgundies and eaten the glue. Nothing remained to identify the wines.
“It was a bit of a dilemma really, because suddenly we didn’t know whether we were drinking a $50 or a $300 bottle of wine,” he concluded weakly.
Ever philosophical, and despite the decidedly vague price points, he took potluck and drank them with gusto anyway, finding all to be excellent.
David didn’t mention whether he had attempted to sell any of his select Burgundian “cleanskins”, but the torture had gone on long enough, so we left it at that.
Top rat illustration: Bay Rigby
What’s your greatest wine disaster story? The Starfish would love to hear from you. The best yarn will be rewarded with a fine Margaret River drop…rodent-free! Email your stories to firstname.lastname@example.org