George Best, who died prematurely in 2005, was a good looking and exceptional soccer player who was extremely popular. He was born in Northern Ireland and played professionally for Manchester United.
In Channel 4’s ‘Four Rooms’ programme, aired July 2011, builder Terry McCauley offered for sale a bottle of George Best wine. The red Italian 1986 wine has a label with a sepia image of the footballer bearing Best’s signature and a back label headed ‘Presented by George Best’.
According to McCauley, George Best had started a wine business in the 1990’s to supply corporate events. McCauley had met Best at a business event where Best presented him with the bottle. The wine business hadn’t gone ahead, the wine was never marketed and thus the bottle was very rare, possibly unique. McCauley was selling his cherished memento of Best only because he needed money to take his family on holiday – whereupon he showed a photo of his young children – and he expected a four figure sum for it.
However I knew that George Best wines, both red and white, had been widely distributed over several years and that I had bought a bottle of a white versions for a few pounds from a supermarket around 2002. Its label is on my winelabels.org website which is why TalkbackThames TV contacted me.
I said the wine had no value to a wine lover, although a fan of Best might think differently. I explained that it was common practice then to differentiate an inexpensive wine by using an eye catching label and that a shipper had likely bought the rights to use Best’s name and image. The researcher seemed convinced that George Best had a hands on role in producing the wine but I said that although several celebrities had bought vineyards and produced their own wines, I didn’t believe George Best was among them.
On TV the dealers weren’t enthusiastic about the wine when Terry McCauley showed it and told how he acquired the bottle. The label was damaged by large gouges, which made me question just how cherished the bottle actually had been.
The programme format is that after the item is displayed and explained the dealers retire to each of four rooms. The seller then can visit each room in any order. The dealer makes an offer to buy the item. The seller doesn’t have to accept the offer and may then go to another room, but they cannot return to a room previously visited.
THree offers between £50 and £500 were rejected. Flamboyant Jeffrey Salmon, owner of Decoratum design galleries, in the last room was also sceptical but reasoned that George Best had been a football icon and, because he had had many fans, the bottle might be of value. He offered McCauley a gamble. They would each take one playing card. If Salmon’s card was higher McCauley would sell for £100, but if McCauley’s card topped his then Salmon would pay £1,000 ($1,600). After a suitably dramatic pause the cards were revealed and Terry McCauley took home £1,000 for a bottle of cheap supermarket wine with a scratched label.
Currently that wine is on sale for £1,400 ($2,300) on Jeffrey Salmon’s Decoratum website www.decoratum.com/general/products_full/?id=425.
And on eBay a bottle of George Best 1997 Chardonnay received bids up to £89, but failed to meet its £500 ($800) reserve.
My advice is that cheap supermarket wines will not appreciate in value if kept, but in rare cases, some can do!
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Peter F May is the author of Marilyn Merlot and the Naked Grape: Odd Wines from Around the World which features more than 100 wine labels and the stories behind them, and PINOTAGE: Behind the Legends of South Africa’s Own Wine which tells the story behind the Pinotage wine and grape, also available for the Kindle and Apple iPad.