PARIS // In headier times, some of these wines were served at dinner to French presidents and their guests - kings, queens and other heads of state. In today's times of austerity, the Elysee Palace is selling the vintage bottles.
The president's palace has decided to dive into its wine cellar and auction off some of its treasures to raise money, replenishing its collection with more modest vintages.
The sale is expected to raise €250,000 (Dh1.2 million) which will be used to ensure the president has enough wine for entertaining without drawing on public finances at a time of savage cost-cutting designed to reduce France's deficit, which stood at more than €87 billion at the end of last year.
The president, Francois Hollande, explained that the goal was to manage the stocks in the cellar. The undertaking fits with his image as "Mr Normal," a regular guy with regular tastes, compared with some of his predecessors such as the attention-grabbing, friend-of-celebrities, Nicolas Sarkozy.
About 1,200 bottles - a tenth of the Elysee's wine collection - went on sale yesterday at Drouot auction house in Paris.
Organisers said that prices for individual bottles could reach up to €2,500 for a 1990 Petrus, all the way down to €15 for a more modest wine.
"This is exceptional because this is the first time that the Elysee has put its bottles on sale," said Ghislaine Kapandji, the auctioneer.
A small label mentioning the Elysee Palace and the date of the auction has been affixed on each bottle.
"I think that's a bonus for buyers, because that's a way for them to be sure that these bottles have always been stocked in the cellar of the Elysee," she said, which ensures that that they have enjoyed "good preservation conditions".
"For many people, that is also the purchase of a souvenir, of a symbol," she added.
Wine lovers from Europe, the United States, Russia and China have contacted the Drouot auction house ahead of the sale.
"Lots of sommeliers from Parisian gourmet restaurants contacted us to get information about the bottles," said Ambroise de Montigny, the wine expert for the auction. "We've also been in touch with wine brokers working for international buyers."
The French president's office is not the first civic body to auction wine to raise funds.
In January, the city hall of Dijon organised an sale of 3,500 bottles of Burgundy from its cellar, raising €150,000 to help finance social services. And in March, the British government sold about 50 bottles from its cellar at Christie's, raising around £75,000.