At £30k a bottle In Bond, Liber Pater 2018 is the world’s most expensive (and controversial?) wine – a Bordeaux red made with rare, ungrafted varieties in the style of Nineteenth Century claret. To launch it, Birley Wine Club hosted an extraordinary evening pouring the 2015 alongside other rare wines. Peter Dean joined Neal Martin and winemaker Loic Pasquet at a once-in-a-lifetime event to taste Bordeaux in the same way that Napoleon did.
“I’m doing what needs to be done to protect our heritage” says Liber Pater owner and vigneron Loïc Pasquet.
£27,500. That’s how much a single 750cl bottle of Liber Pater 2015 costs – wholesale price. And my glass is being refilled liberally. ‘Super somm’ Clement Robert MS confides that he has bought 11 bottles of it for Birley Clubs for which he is head of beverage and wine buyer.
As wine writers we are taught that it is what’s in the glass that counts – everything else is just noise. But £27,500… I’m sorry but doesn’t the price sort of just get in the way? … an ever-so slightly teeny bit?
I ask Loic Pasquet this question, the winemaker and owner of Liber Pater, a boutique winery in Landiras a small commune just North-West of Sauternes that has, since 2006, become a true cult estate. Its schtick is to restore the great taste of Bordeaux wines at the time of the 1855 classification – before the onset of phylloxera – using native, ungrafted vines of varieties that were once commonly used in the region but many of which have subsequently been outlawed.
Such has been his battles with authorities, police and anyone else with an axe to grind that Pasquet has even commissioned his own graphic novel of his exploits, a gift of which we are given at the end of what is a truly extraordinary evening.
A rare event indeed
Pasquet is showing his wines at a Birley Wine Club dinner thrown in his honour at Matteo’s in Annabel’s, Mayfair. Annabel’s is one of five venues of uber-exclusive Birley Clubs and Matteo’s is served by one of an amazing five restaurants in Annabel’s – at any one time they can sit 900 covers in the venue. As you are shown to the Matteo’s dining room by a pink-jacketed steward, who looks a little like a Eurovision Song contestant, you pass through a labyrinth of bars and restaurants that makes up this extraordinary fun palace.
Birley Wine Club meets several times a year and hosts the type of wines you’d give your right arm to taste. Neal Martin, one of the world’s leading authorities on Bordeaux is one of three writers invited, with Liber Pater being a wine that even he finds it hard to taste.
We are greeted with a glass of Champagne Rare 2008 and a polite notice that photos are strictly verboten – unless they are of the dinner plates which, let me tell you, are artfully arranged with foods of the highest order.
A carpaccio of wild sea bass, pink grapefruit and apple marigold is accompanied by a 2008 Egon Müller Riesling Kabinett Schwarzhofberger, the Kabinett seeming almost Spatlese in RS level, but matching the acidity of the dressing well.
We are then served the Liber Pater wines, first the ‘entry level’ Denarius by Liber Pater 2019 (£691 a bottle) which matches a Carabinero and squid ink tortellini with a tomato and prawn butter sauce. Next up is the Liber Pater 2015 which is served alongside grilled Wagyu tenderloin, a morel as big as a small fist, white broccoli and golden raisin jus gras. I’m not sure I’ve had better beef – it tasted like it had been massaged to death to the strains of Wagner. The Liber Pater was different, delicious and tasted like ‘Bordeaux with a twist’, which is what you would expect.
A Denarius by Liber Pater 2015 accompanies the cheese and chutney. I’ve tasted this before and it stacks up, with great texture which was missing from the 2019 which has been aged in amphora compared to the 2015’s wood; but, let’s just put this into perspective, at £691 you can buy on eBay four of the real Roman silver coins that the wine is named after. Just saying.
Does the price detract from the message?
The wines elicited a great deal of discussion, obviously, and it was a pinch-yourself moment to be there when Pasquet joined us and had an in-depth discussion with Neal Martin about the wines and the whole backstory. There was not a lot of agreement around the table it has to be said but I will leave that for Martin to write about on his own website Vinous.
For my part it was one of those evenings where you know you are ‘dining at the top table’ – a seat generously hosted by Birley Wine Club, and it being an extremely good advert for this most exclusive of gatherings.
So does the price get in the way of the wine? Of course it does. It’s what everyone writes about, rather than Pasquet’s courageous attempts to take on the whole Bordeaux system single-handedly armed with a mule, a 150 year-old plough, and a patch of land that has not (recently) been renowned for making great red wines. And, to be fair, Pasquet seems to revel in the price put on his bottles.
There is something entirely perverse about a wine that has humility at its core and – which is driven by a philosophy of preserving the taste of foods as a precious cultural treasure – being the most expensive wine in the world. Pasquet’s answer to my question as to whether the price gets in the way is not entirely convincing.
He says that his customers understand what he’s doing and are happy to pay for that – giving an example of one customer in Singapore who flew him out to open a bottle. Rarity obviously plays a factor – there were only 720 bottles of Liber Pater 2018 produced which, importer Armit Wines is currently selling for £30,000 a bottle… In Bond. It makes the release price of DRC at £3,600 a bottle seem almost cheap.
Clement Robert MS says “the jury’s still out” on the wines but that there is clearly a demand for them. As for the way the price rose from the first vintage to where it is now, I believe that Pasquet has to be smiling about the irony that the 1855 classified estates, which ranked châteaux according to the price of their wines, now has an ‘outsider’ in their midst – a wine that is arguably truer to the original assemblage of the wines of that time and yet has to call itself Vin de Table because it breaks all the rules subsequently enshrined in law. And, using their own evaluation criteria of price – Liber Pater sits at the very top of the tree.