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  • Jancis Robinson
Written by
  • Jancis Robinson
3 Oct 2014

Domaine Clarence Dillon, owners of the famous Pessac first growth Château Haut-Brion, issued a challenge to historians in May last year. Having celebrated the 350th anniversary of the first known mention of the wine, in King Charles II's cellar book in 1660, they challenged them to find no fewer than two fully authenticated mentions from the early 16th century.

The older dates from 1521, in a notarial instrument dated 21 January 1521 discovered in the Gironde departmental archives. It mentions the sale of a perpetual annuity in wine between one Jean de Monque, a squire and lord of Monque, and Guilhem de Mailhois, a 'bourgeois merchant and sergeant of Bordeaux'. The sale is agreed for a sum of 400 'Bordeaux francs' (a sum that would be equivalent to the current purchasing power of more than €50,000). In repayment of this loan, Jean de Monque undertakes to deliver each year 'four pipes of wine ...from the place known as Aubrion' (equivalent to eight barriques or 1,800 litres):

'quatre pipes de vin, seront du cru des vignes appartenant audit de Monque du lieu appelé Aubrion, appartenant audit vendeur. Lesquelles sont sises derrière son bourdieu assis audit lieu appelé du Brion, en la paroisse Saint-Martin de Pessac, ensemble des vignes de Pins Bouquet, de la Gravette et de Cantegrit, le tout appartenant audit seigneur de Monque, assis en Graves de Bordeaux et si cas était que ne vint aucuns fruits de raisins qui fussent pour satisfaire lesdites quatre pipes de vin de rente, bon, pur et net et marchand, le dit vendeur sera tenu lui en bailler d'autres aussi bon provenu du cru desdites vignes dessus déclarées.'

'four pipes of wine, will be from the vineyard (cru) belonging to the said de Monque from the place known as Aubrion, belonging to the said seller. The said vines being found behind his smallholding established in the said place known as Le Brion, in the parish of Saint-Martin de Pessac…'

The price paid was, by my calculations, the equivalent of €20.83 a bottle in terms of current purchasing power. A snip!