Five Great Wine and Spirits Disasters

Many years ago, a mate of mine ducked down to the local to pick up a couple of bottles. It happened to be a young gewurz wine as he and his wife were off to the Chinese at the end of the street for dinner and a bottle of Château Pétrus (from Bordeaux, and one of the world’s best) to cellar for a special occasion – yes, there were days you could do that.

Words by Drinks Writer, Ken Gargett

On the way home, the idiot du jour cut in, causing him to slam on the brakes (I lost a good Kiwi pinot the same way). The bottles he thought were firmly secured in the back seat shot forward and he heard the sickening sound of glass breaking. He told me later that he had never been so happy in his life to smell the tell-tale aroma of young gewurz, lychees and Turkish delight. His precious Pétrus was safe, if somewhat shaken.

I remember Len Evans (one of Australia’s most regarded wine nous, now sadly, no longer with us) speaking of an extraordinary dinner he hosted many years ago when the wine de résistance was a German of immense age – let’s say 1765, give or take. The royalty of Australian wine had assembled for the event, black tie. I think even the PM was there. As the moment to unveil the evening’s prize arrived, Evans gave a typical stirring speech of what awaited them. As he called for the bottle, there was a loud smash and a voice from the kitchen, “Whoops. You wouldn’t have any 1766 by chance?” It was all a set-up, of course, but they say it took several days for Evans to recover from the shock.

We have all had disasters. Some self-inflicted; others more unfortunate. Here are five others to avoid, if possible.


If you are spending £30,000 on a bottle of Champagne, you really should be more careful. Apparently, a chap was keen to impress his friends on a recent trip to Ibiza and he had the funds to do so. Hence, he decided to blow 30K of his hard-earned on a big bottle of fizz. Now, I am never averse to great Champagne and the larger the format the better, but I have a feeling that 30K in a club in Ibiza may have equated to a fair bit less elsewhere. Still, it was his money. Back to the story…it would seem that the pop of the cork was too much for the young guy upon opening as the bottle slipped and dropped to its demise! What I love is the number of his ‘friends’ hovering around to film the entire thing. And how quickly they loaded it up for the world to see. Cruel but fair.


It could only happen in Los Angeles. A peaceful little liquor store, the Royal Oaks Liquor Store to be precise, minding its own business…and in walks a peacock. Seriously, a peacock. The owners decided that they would gently encourage the foul fowl to leave but the yolk was on them (and no more poultry puns, I promise). The bird apparently rather liked the store and it took a security guard 90 minutes of chasing it around before they finally convinced it to take off. The result was US$500 worth of damage, including some Champagne. I think they were very lucky that, in 90 minutes, it did not do an awful lot more damage. The son of the owner, interviewed by local news, was heard to say “He’s got expensive taste. I’m like, ‘You break, you buy, dude’. But clearly, he did not. He got away with it.”


If dropping £30,000 of fizz isn’t bad enough, how about the poor soul who let slip the US$77,000 bottle of Cognac around 8 years ago? The bottle dated back to 1788 – the 1788 Cognac Clos du Griffier. So, while Captain Phillip was busy setting off on a centuries-long debate about Australia Day, the French were busy bottling amazing wines. Quite where it spent the next couple of hundred years, I’m not sure. But in 2009, it was sold as part of the famous La Tour Argent’s wine sale, for €25,000. Eventually, it found its way to the London Playboy Club, where it was valued at US$77K. Though quite why it was valued in US dollars while in the UK is not clear. No matter, let us just agree that it was extremely valuable.

Anyway, along comes our unfortunate hero. Perhaps not so unfortunate as he orders two glasses of this nectar for the mere snip of £5000 each. Seriously. Apparently, our hero was rather taken with this Cognac and asked if he might see the bottle. Of course, sir! So over it comes. Our hero pops up to take a closer look but as he does so, accidentally knocks it from the hands of the member of staff who had delivered it – no info as to whether that was one of the playmates (if so, perhaps that might explain why he was not concentrating)!


Yes, the award for the stupidest crime on the planet for 2018 has already been locked in, even this early in the year. Readers may have seen reports of a strategically surgical robbery, clearly planned with precision by a gang of master criminals. It was quick, clinical and very, very lucrative. Oceans Eleven stuff! Or was it? For those not familiar with the reports, the Copenhagen heist took place around New Year at Café 33 in the Vesterbro district. The owner of the café, Brian Ingberg, is a bit keen on vodka – he even has a vodka museum at the café with some 1,200 different bottles. It seems Brian had an arrangement with the Russo-Baltique brand Dartz Motorz Company to exhibit a very special and extremely expensive bottle of vodka at the museum. This particular bottle is one-of-a-kind, made from six kilograms of gold and silver with a diamond encrusted cap, in the shape of a Russian imperial eagle. It is valued at around US$1.3 million and even featured on House of Cards as a gift from the Russian President to his US counterpart. Not hard to see why it might be the target of serious criminals.

The heist was over in the blink of an eye. On a busy night, Brian and his staff apparently took their eye off the fabulous bottle for an instant and it was gone. CCTV showed two masked men fleeing the scene. It seemed that they knew exactly which bottle to target, leaving the other 1,200 untouched.

But wait!

A few days later, someone walking past a nearby construction site saw something glinting amongst the rubble. A quick investigation and there was the bottle. Empty but unharmed!


Back in the late 1980s, the wine event of the decade was the sale of a 1787 Château Lafite – at the time believed to be part of a long-lost cellar owned by Thomas Jefferson, one of the Founding Fathers and third President of the United States. So, a big deal, indeed. And after all, it could not be a fake as it had the Prez’s initials scratched into it. The bottle went for £105,000 purchased by Malcolm Forbes. Not bad. The cellar also contained other Bordeaux wines and even some Yquem. A friend tried one of those Château d’Yquems and I remember him telling me that he had no idea if it was real, but it was very old and very good.

One of the bottles was a 1787 Margaux. It ended up with a British wine retailer and they sent it, on consignment, to William Sokolin, a Manhattan wine merchant. He had it insured for over US$200,000 but had declared to all and sundry that it was worth $519,750 – quite why such a curious number is not clear. Anyway, Mr Sokolin hosted a dinner for 193 people at which the bottle was to be unveiled – one assumes entry did not guarantee a taste. The owners of Chateau Margaux had flown over for it.

It would seem that Mr Sokolin’s “great hands,” from his time in baseball had deserted him as he accidentally knocked it over, watching it hit the edge of the table it and leaving a large red puddle on the carpet. The bottle did not smash but, presumably because of age, two large holes appeared. The pain was not over for Mr Sokolin, not by a long shot. Not only were the Jefferson bottles later to be considered as fakes, despite the initials (can you believe it?), even worse, it seems Mr Sokolin was so devastated by the accident that he wandered out of the function and hopped in a taxi to go home. It was only much later that he realised he had forgotten his wife, and not left her any money for a cab.

Feature image: Chris Pratt in Parks and Rec, originally shown on

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