VALBUENA, Spain (AP) — Two thieves stole 45 bottles of wine, including an extremely rare 215-year-old bottle valued at 350,000 euros ($407,000), from a collection at an upscale hotel and restaurant complex in southwestern Spain, the owner said Friday.
The theft took place in the early hours of Wednesday according to José Polo, one of the owners of Atrio, a complex comprising a hotel and a two-Michelin-starred restaurant with a cellar sheltering over 40,000 bottles in the city of Caceres.
“They were professionals, they knew exactly what they were doing,” Polo, the collector who decided to make the robbery public through a letter to customers and friends, told The Associated Press.
They are an English-speaking couple that gave the appearance of a sophisticated couple. They then asked a hotel front desk clerk to serve them more food and when he went to the kitchen ― leaving security camera monitors unattended — the man slipped into the cellar and stole the bottles, Polo said.
They checked out at the crack of dawn on Wednesday and paid with credit cards. Then they left with bottles in their bags.
Polo said no one noticed their booty, which included the valuable 1806 Chateau d’Yquem and at least six other 19th-century bottles from the exclusive Romanée-Conti winemaker in France’s Burgundy region. Polo said he didn’t know the exact value of the stolen bottles (which were not insured), but they held symbolic significance.
Polo stated that the couple could not be working as a pair for private collectors of wine because they took bottles away that were unreplaceable and also couldn’t be sold on an open market.
“Those bottles are very numbered and controlled. That 1806 Yquen is unique; everyone knows it’s ours”, he said, adding that industry connoisseurs would notice if they were put up for sale.
A Caceres spokeswoman from the National Police said that an investigation was underway into the wine heist. He declined to provide more information as the officer wasn’t authorized to name in media reports.
Like art, wine is associated to pleasure and luxury and can sometimes fetch irrational prices, said David Remartínez, a food and catering industry critic, who added that collectible bottles of decades or centuries-old wine are commodities.
“It is centiliters of a liquid that no one is sure can be consumed,” he said.
“These bottles cannot be sold in a public market, but there is a hidden market for their exchange,” said Remartínez, who added that Atrio’s theft should send a warning to wine private collectors about tightening security measures in their cellars.