My intrepid colleague Elissa Elan came across this item by venerable wine writer Howard Goldberg. It seems that Le Cirque is auctioning off rare bottles of châteaux Margaux, Petrus and Yquem through Nywines/Christie’s on November 17. The reasons for the sale, Goldberg cites Le Cirque owner Sirio Maccioni as saying, is to create more space in Le Cirque’s cellars and to allow Maccioni, with the cash raised, to refresh his wine list and get more recent vintages.
Really? He's auctioning off prized wines, in this crappiest of all crappy markets, to make more room? He can’t find any off-site storage space? Really?
Elissa, being no fool, called Le Cirque and tried to speak to Sirio’s son Mario and was transferred instead to Sirio’s executive assistant, who has not returned the multiple calls that Elissa has made since then.
So we’re wondering, what’s going on at Le Cirque? Is it that strapped for cash? Are its clientele not buying expensive wines anymore because of the economy? During most recessions, sales of luxury items tend to remain strong as people treat themselves to small luxuries. Then again, perhaps this recession is not like most of them.
A couple thousand dollars for a bottle of wine might not seem like a small luxury, but people forced to sell their ninth home or their second yacht (and there are many people like that here in New York) might need to drown their sorrows in just such a thing as they prepare to park the corporate jet and fly on commercial airlines (first class, of course; I mean, come on).
At the auction itself, Goldberg points out, bidders will be offered a $395 four-course dinner. Why not finish that off with a bottle of ’67 Yquem (estimated value per case: $18,000)?
October 24 update — Marco Maccioni responds
He called Elissa, and this is what he said:
“The wine auction was organized quite a few months ago, before this economic hurricane even started. We literally wanted to clear out the excess stock of our big, granddaddy wines. People are still drinking them; they’re just drinking a little less of them.
“We were a little top heavy in recent years, but since the move from The Palace [hotel, where Le Cirque 2000 was located], we can’t just present Petrus and Margaux.”
Le Cirque is going to take the proceeds of the auction and “recycle it back into our wine program, buy newer growth, more boutique wines to deepen our list and make it more attractive to guests.”
He also said that at different times other restaurateurs have auctioned off their wines, including Daniel Boulud and Danny Meyer.
“We made the decision when Christie’s approached us; we knew that nowadays wine auctions can become a source of income for restaurants, and we’re fortunate enough to have a deep wine cellar, so it only made good sense to sell off the excess inventory when the opportunity arose.”
Marco added that they’re focusing the auction on “those collectors who accumulate big wines” and hopes they will “get good business on all the lots even though the market isn‘t the best.”
He also wanted everyone to know that Le Cirque is doing O.K. even though its holiday party business is off from last year.
“My father has been in business for more than 35 years. In that time he has seen the gas prices of the early 70s, the Gulf War and 9/11, but if you have a strong foundation you just have to weather the storm. There is no fear of us closing; we’re just reinforcing the restaurant.”