A two-day auction is opening in Hong Kong today featuring fine and rare Champagnes from the collection of Robert Rosania, a real estate investor based in New York City. Acker, Merrall & Condit, who are conducting the sale, describe Rosania as “the world’s greatest collector” of Champagne.
The Hong Kong sale features 1,000 lots of Champagne, including rare examples from a roll call of fine Champagne houses: Bollinger, Dom Pérignon, Krug, Louis Roederer, Pierre-Jouët, Salon, Pol Roger, Pommery, Phillippont, Mumm and Taittinger.
Acker, Merrall & Condit’s CEO, John Kapon, said before the sale that it was the company’s privilege to present Rosania’s “massive and incomparable collection.” But although the lots on offer are expected to realize more than $6.5 million, they form just part of Rosania’s total Champagne holdings.
Rosania, 42, began collecting wine just 10 years ago. Since then, he’s built up an extensive collection and now describes himself as “a connoisseur of fine and rare Champagne.”
“I’ve had the privilege and opportunity to drink basically every great Champagne made in the 20th century,” Rosania says. In his view, the highlights of the Hong Kong auction include a 1975 Deutz Vinotheque – “there are only a couple of hundred magnums in the world, so it’s extra rare” – and a 1966 Krug Blanc de Blancs, which is expected to fetch $12,000–18,000. The bottle comes from the only vintage ever made of this Champagne and it’s so rare that, according to Rosania, sixth-generation Oliver Krug had never drunk it “until I opened it for him a few years ago when we were in St Moritz together.”
Rosania’s auction favorites also include a 1911 Moët and Chandon (estimate: $8,000-12,000), and two offerings of Krug’s Clos du Mesnil (1982 and 1988), produced from a minuscule 1.84-hectare vineyard in the village of Mesnil-sur-Oger near Reims.
“I have been to Krug and have personally walked on the grounds of Clos du Mesnil,” notes Rosania. He believes that Krug is “the ultimate standard bearer of what Champagne is. It is truly the most age-worthy white wine in the world.”
To what extent does the rarity of a wine add to the appeal of drinking it?
“Part of the passion, part of the mystery, part of the fun of drinking a very old very rare wine is that there is an opportunity to taste history in a bottle and obviously that’s a fleeting opportunity because there's not a tremendous amount of them left in the world,” says Rosania. And, he adds: “They taste great.”
The New York collector is selling some of his “fine and rare pieces” in Hong Kong to coincide with the publication of a new Champagne guide by his friend Richard Juhlin – “probably the foremost authority on Champagne in the world.” Juhlin is attending the sale.
Rosania says he began collecting wine because “I love wine, I like to drink it, and as I drank more – and different varieties – I started buying more and more. As people do with anything they enjoy.”
Having been raised in an Italian household, he “drank wine, albeit very pedestrian wine, from when I was a little boy. As kids, we would get a discreet amount.”
These days, when he's not drinking Champagne, Rosania likes to open a bottle of Burgundy, preferably Domaine de la Romanée-Conti La Tâche. "As many have said, all roads lead to Burgundy and the greatest producer is Romanée-Conti. I drink a little Bordeaux, but red Burgundy is what I like to drink on a regular basis."
Rosania is irritated by questions – frequently asked, he says – about how much of his collection is bought to drink, as opposed to being an investment. “I would say that everything I buy is because I intend to drink – or like to drink – that particular wine. Sometimes I buy a little too much of it, or over the years my tastes have changed; as a result, from time to time I have sold some.”
He adds: “I’m passionate about wine as a beverage or a drink, and much less passionate about it as an investment.”
Does he worry about buying fakes? “I think you would be imprudent if you weren’t diligent about it. In everything there’s real and there’s imposters. Even Colgate toothpaste has impostors and that’s an extremely inexpensive commodity. I think you have to be diligent about what you’re buying and from whom you are buying.”
As well as being known as a collector of rare Champagnes, Rosania has a reputation as a noted sabreur when it comes to opening bottles. “Especially with older bottles of Champagne, where the cork gets more fragile and brittle, and the steel basket around the cork gets aged, it’s actually easier to saber them than to try to remove a cork,” he explains. “When you’re twisting the bottom of the bottle and holding the cork, obviously from time to time you could twist the cork off. Then you have to take it up with a corkscrew.”
Rosania adds that the centuries-old technique of sabering a bottle is not difficult: “It’s nothing to do with the force. You’re just following the seam on the bottle and addressing the ridge correctly and then bop... it pops off.”