Chateau Margaux in Punch?

Can you imagine pouring 4 or 5 bottles of the most expensive wine ever valued into a punch bowl? What would be unthinkable today was not so 100 years ago.

Due to an insurance payout of $225,000 on a single bottle of wine in 1989, Chateau Margaux became the most expensive wine of all time. The story goes all the way back to Thomas Jefferson when he was the United States Minister to France from 1785 to 1789. While living in Paris, he traveled around France and visited Chateau Margaux, as well as other wineries. He was very impressed with their wine and brought back bottles for his collection and enjoyment. At some point he requested that his initials be stamped on each bottle of his wine shipments. Bottles with his initials were also found in Paris behind a bricked up wall.  

In 1989, William Sokolin, a New York wine merchant, took a bottle of 1787 Chateau Margaux on consignment, which was marked with Jefferson’s initials. The bottle’s English owner wanted to sell the bottle in the States. Sokolin was asking an exorbitant $519,750, but had no buyers. One evening he brought the bottle to a Chateau Margaux dinner at the Four Seasons restaurant. In front of 193 guests, he accidentally bumped the bottle into a tray table and it was damaged. The wine leaked out onto the carpet, leaving a blood red stain. Mr. Sokolin said, “I committed murder”  to a New York Times reporter a few hours later. 

Today a bottle of Chateau Margaux is valued from the hundreds to thousands of dollars, depending on the vintage. So how is it that once upon a time a recipe called for 4 bottles of Chateau Margaux for a party punch? 

In the late 1800’s the Phyloxera pest had attacked the vines of the Margaux village and both the quality and quantity of wine from the area was greatly diminished. The French grape varieties were only saved by grafting the vines onto more robust American root stock. Harvests didn’t return to normal volume until the 1890’s. It took some time after that before the quality of the grape fully returned. So in the high days of the cocktail before Prohibition, Chateau Margaux would have been much more affordable. The vineyards did survive the World Wars, but it wasn’t until the 1970’s that Chateau Margaux again rose to the international acclaim it enjoys today.

So unless your bank account allows for you to pour about $2000 into a punch bowl, you’ll have to substitute with another full-bodied red when recipes in Historic Cocktails call for a Chateau Margaux.

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