A discerning clientele expects the best wines money can buy. And many of these are in the VIP cellars at Crown Towers Melbourne, reports Susan Skelly.
A kid in a lolly shop has nothing on Chris Crawford, Crown Melbourne’s General Manager Beverage, in his wine vault. Hidden behind a door of latticed steel, this is an Aladdin’s Cave of treasure and drinking pleasure.
A 1911 Moët & Chandon was disgorged only in 2011. It’s been held on lees for 100 years, plenty of time to develop complexity. It’s listed on Crown Melbourne’s No. 8 restaurant wine bucket list for a chilled A$18,500.
There’s a 1907 Heidsieck Monopole Goût Américain Champagne recovered from the Swedish freighter Jönköping, torpedoed off Finland in 1916 by a German submarine. It was salvaged in 1997 and one of the bottles found its way to auction, fetching US$275,000. Crown came into possession of six of about 200 bottles salvaged, and has sold four. More or less a dark, still wine these days, it is listed at A$13,200 a bottle.
Then there’s a 50-year-old Macallan whisky with a price tag of A$70,000; Crown’s last four bottles of Hennessy Ellipse cognac; the only release of Comtes de Champagne magnums; the limited-edition Yamazaki 25-year-old single malt whisky, aged in sherry casks, and its Suntory stablemate, the 21-year-old Hibiki blend.
In stock are 38 vintages of Grange from 1951 to 2011 (the ’51 will set you back A$50,000) including those from the “hidden vintages” – 1957 to 1959, when legendary winemaker Max Schubert hid the older oak barrels behind cost-saving new oak. Crawford says one complete set recently sold overseas for $A285,000.
“Not everything is listed [on wine menus], but they’re just a phone call away,” he says. Those calls often bring out the detective in Crawford. Many requests are driven by numbers: lucky numbers, anniversaries, birthdates, birth years. He was recently asked to source 40 bottles of 40-year-old Grange for a 40th birthday celebration.
Rare red Burgundy also beds down here – coveted pinot noirs such as the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Romanée-Conti. “A tiny production and highly sought,” says Crawford. “Maybe 300 [cases], compared to, say, a Bordeaux such as Château Lafite, of which 25,000 to 30,000 [cases] might be produced [from one vintage].”
While rarity is a hallmark of Crown cellars, Crawford isn’t precious about letting his charges go. “There is no point buying it if you can’t sell it. We are careful about provenance. Being able to guarantee where something has come from is important … like farm to table in the kitchen, people like to know the stories and the history.”
These are the racks where Crawford would be most likely to find his own personal desert island wine: a Romanée-Conti from La Tâche vineyard, one of the world’s most expensive wines. “I drink widely, but I love pinot noirs,” he confesses.
This cellar is one of three VIP caches at Crown Melbourne, housing between 8,500 and 10,000 bottles all up. Sorted by variety, the cellars are kept at 16°C and high humidity so cork maintains its elasticity, preventing oxidisation. Light, too, is detrimental, and movement is kept to a minimum.
“We tuck them up and put them to bed until somebody drinks them!” Crawford says.
First published in Crystal: Curated by Crown, in the June -August 2016 edition
Photography Julian Kingma