A unique slice of liquid history goes on sale at Christie’s London on October 20. The remarkable Avery Family Cellar, spanning three centuries of wine, represents the astute yet very different palates and passions of Ronald Avery and his son John, whose great-grandfather, also John, acquired the small retail wine business in 1793 that became Averys of Bristol.
The traditionalist bent of the eccentric Ronald and the innovative influence of his son, a Master of Wine, inspired a collection whose eclectic breadth has already attracted interest from collectors worldwide, in particular from America and Asia. Kept in a typical cool, damp West Country cellar, the condition of the wines, if not all the labels, is mostly excellent. At a time when fraud has brought caveats as to the authenticity of older wines, the collection also boasts impeccable provenance.
In the 1950s, Ronald Avery was the first to bring Petrus to the UK, at a time when few had even heard of Pomerol. Reflecting his traditional tastes, the 842 lots feature an array of rare Bordeaux first growths, including a bottle of 1874 Château Lafite Rothschild and eight bottles of 1945 Mouton-Rothschild, both estimated at up to £6,000, 11 bottles of 1945 Latour (£20,000-£25,000), a bottle of 1969 Romanée-Conti (£5,000-£7,000) and two of 1969 Salon Champagne (£3,000-£4,000).
In 1965, Averys held a comparative tasting of Beaulieu along with French wines at The Connaught, predating the famous “Judgment of Paris” blind-tasting competition by a decade. That same year John Avery became the first to bring in Penfolds Grange, at a cost of eight shillings a bottle to import. Averys became the first agent for California’s Beaulieu and Heitz, Australia’s McWilliams and Tyrrells, and South Africa’s Rustenberg and Hamilton Russell. The collection includes many vintages of Grange, as well as rare older wines from Beaulieu, Inglenook, Heitz, Château Montelena and Robert Mondavi.
Adding to the historic feel of the occasion, catalogue sections include stories of many of the most famous wine names of both Old and New World, not to mention practices such as lower-priced Bristol bottlings from surplus Grand Cru Burgundy, whose made-up code names such as Cuvée Chambiges (Chambolle-Musigny), Cardinal Richelieu (Richebourg) and Cardinal Mazarin (Mazis-Chambertin) were well known to Averys’ craftiest regular clients.