Wine too good to drink - the extraordinary collections of Michel Chasseuil

Michel Chasseuil is one of the greatest and most surprising collectors of wine that there has ever been.

His interest was sparked at an early age by his grandfather, a cattle merchant who travelled the world and brought back tipples from various countries which his family were allowed to sample.

Once he had established a well-paid job as an aeronautical engineer, Chasseuil took up finding and collecting wines as a hobby. This soon blossomed into a passion, and he too started to travel the world in search of wine auctions from his native France across Europe and then on to America, Australia and South Africa.

When Chasseuil began his quest, wine auctions were not popular or reported on and so he was able to pick up some extraordinary bottles for relative bargains.

Initially wherever possible he would buy two or more of each kind so that he could have his wine and drink it, so to speak. But when the 1990s came wine became more of a status symbol for the rich and Chasseuil sold some of the 'excess' at great profits retaining just one set.

A case of 1982 Petrus, regarded as one of the greatest wines ever to come from the Bordeaux region, he sold for $50,000, having bought it for 300 francs a bottle (no more than $50).

So far, so unsurprising - the great dilemma for any wine collector is how much to drink and how much to hold as an investment. But Chasseuil doesn't intend to drink much of his collection, nor will it ever head to auction. His primary aim for his 35,000 bottles is preservation.

Michel Chasseuil talks about his wine book (courtesy of Miss GlouGlou)

It's hardly unknown for collectors to be wary of their collections being damaged by any contact or use. Many toy collections are for display only and book collections are anything but well-thumbed. Still, a wine collection which will never reach anyone's palate is one step too far for some. Bottles are generally just bottles, not preservative glass cases.

One wonders what Lloyd Flatt would have thought about the hoard, given his impatience with wine as an investment and strong belief that wine is for drinking and nothing else. Bipin Desai holds tastings which includes wines which might be regarded as liquid antiques, and whilst Park B Smith has far more wine than he could ever drink, no bottle is more than a whim from his table - or one at his restaurant.

But Chasseuil's are for keeping. Indeed he hid the collection from the wine community at large until a few years ago when it was declared by some experts to be the greatest in the world.

He wasn't looking for fame - Chasseuil is a quiet unassuming man who described himself to British newspaper The Times as 'living like a monk'. Instead he was looking for backers for a museum to hold the wine.

This is an unusual idea. But some of the wines are undeniably history in a bottle. His collection includes Hunt's port from 1735, alongside bottles of Maison de l'Empereur champagne produced for Napoleon and Château d'Yquem both produced in 1811.

Chasseuil also has every vintage of Petrus from 1924 and the Romanée-Conti, since 1905, which count as collections of Bordeaux and Burgundy in their own right. Ironically Chasseuil hopes that displaying the wines would encourage people to enjoy good wine with their food. He is not by any means a teetotaller.

Whilst the museum has not been established yet, Chasseuil has presented his wines to the world with a book: 100 bouteilles extraordinaires de la plus belle cave du monde (100 amazing bottles from the most beautiful cave in the world).

Comments following its release continue to wrestle with the strangeness of the unbroachable collection. One noted (translated): "It is as if he held the tears of Christ enclosed in a glass bulb."

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