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Madoff Drank Dull Wines, Hoarded Mini-Bar Smirnoff: Auctions

Chateau Lynch-Bages
Bottles of 1990 Chateau Lynch-Bages offered as one lot at Morrell & Co. Fine Wine Auctions. Source: Morrell & Co. via Bloomberg

Bernard L. Madoff saved mini-bar miniatures and showed little interest in finer wines.

“He was clearly not a connoisseur, or a serious wine collector,” said Kimberly Janis, director at Morrell & Co. Fine Wine Auctions, which will offer for sale 58 lots from Madoff’s booze collection on May 18.

One lot is a selection of 2-ounce bottles of Smirnoff vodka, Bombay Gin and Grand Marnier liqueur. The estimate: $10 to $20.

“That’s hilarious actually,” Janis said. “Who knew that’s what he’d collected?”

The auction house expects to raise about $15,000 from the wine collection. It’s the latest sale of Madoff’s possessions, which were seized by U.S. marshals to raise money for the victims of his $65 billion Ponzi scheme. His powerboats and a Mercedes-Benz fetched $1.1 million in 2009. Last year, souvenir hunters helped raise $2 million from the liquidation sale of Madoff’s bed and his wife Ruth’s diamonds.

“He had some good Bordeaux,” said Elin McCoy, who writes about wine and spirits for Bloomberg News. “But I am surprised that this is all there was. The guy was a gazillionaire.”

The top lot of the wine sale is a 12-bottle case of 1996 Bordeaux, Chateau Mouton-Rothschild, with a presale estimate of $3,200 to $3,800. The online bids already have surpassed the range, with the latest one at $5,500.

A case of 1996 Chateau Mouton-Rothschild last month fetched about $8,200 at Sotheby’s in London.

Vintage Barolo

“He actually picked out a couple of interesting Italian wines, though not many,” said McCoy.

She flagged the lot containing six bottles of vintage 1997 Antinori Tignanello, estimated to bring $850 to $1200, and two bottles of 2000 Bruno Giacosa Barolo estimated at $140 to $200.

A case of nonvintage Veuve Clicquot Champagne, yellow-label brut, may fetch $240 to $350, or $20 to $29 a bottle. New York’s Chelsea Wine Vault sells one bottle of the bubbly for $40.

Although many lots look like bargains with multiple bottles and low estimates, nothing is known about the storage conditions.

“If the bottles are no good, that’s not a bargain,” said McCoy.

Judging from the auction selection, Madoff’s drinks tray was ordinary, with Cinzano and Irish cream liqueur as well the expected Scotch. One exception: A bottle of 18-year-old Macallan Scotch whisky distilled in 1984, priced at $120 to $150.

Murky Liquid

One of the odder lots is a crystal decanter filled with a mysterious brown liquid, modestly estimated at $60 to $90.

How did the auction house price it?

“You just kind of guess,” said Janis. “It could be a really expensive scotch, but it’s impossible to divine. He’s not talking.”

Madoff is serving a 150-year sentence in federal prison after pleading guilty in 2009 to his decades-long scheme.

The overall quality of the offerings is secondary to the notoriety of their former owner.

“There may be baby deals to be had,” said McCoy. “But the best part of getting anything from this sale is that you can say it was seized from Bernie Madoff’s cellar.”

(Katya Kazakina is a reporter for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are her own.)

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