Auction News - A bottle of Italian history

Auction News - A bottle of Italian history

Whisky Auctioneer’s expert offers his thoughts on April 2022

Auction News | 22 Apr 2022 | By Joe Wilson

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In last month’s column we held a microscope up to the esteemed Italian importer, Fratelli Rinaldi, and its role as a progenitor of The Macallan single malt’s legendary status held today. While the discourse around the Italian love affair with whisky is often dominated by names that became independent bottlers, Rinaldi is one of a select few whose name commands such prestige through working directly with distillers and their brands. Another of these is Bonfanti.

Bonfantimport was established in Milan by Giuseppe Bonfanti, a name becoming increasingly synonymous with high-quality Laphroaig. The Islay distillery’s first distribution contract in Italy was with Filippi Fausto in the 1960s, before transferring to Bonfanti early in the next decade. Bottles of the proprietary 10-year-old expression from this period are legendary, and we are delighted to feature examples of both Fausto and the Bonfanti imports from the early 1970s in our April auction. Sought-after by drinkers and collectors alike, they are spectacular opportunities to explore a familiar product from a revered and unrepeatable period of its production.

Laphroaig Fausto import

Bonfanti retained the rights to distribute Laphroaig in Italy until the early 1980s, in which time he also imported Glenlivet single malt and Barbancourt rum from Haiti. When his Laphroaig contract passed on to Francesco Cinzano, it turned the page on a fascinating new chapter in the shape of an unprecedented arrangement with the Distillers Company (DCL). With its malt distilleries operated by its largely diffuse portfolio of blending companies, DCL had previously struggled to mobilise itself to meet the growing demand for single malt. Several distillery’s brands were marketed, but inevitably these were secondary to the blending interests of their licensee. Bonfanti, however, was a single malt enthusiast with a singular vision for his clientele.

Throughout the mid-1980s, he secured contracts with Bulloch Lade, John Bisset and The Distillers Agency, showcasing their DCL distilleries in a way not previously achieved. Now operating as Zenith Italia, his company distributed 12-year-old offerings from Caol Ila, Rosebank and Royal Brackla, with each respectively supported by an exclusive 100 proof version of a 15-,16- and 20-year-old expression. The Rosebank, which also featured a cask strength 15-year-old, were all specially labelled too, but perhaps the most intriguing coup were the Royal Brackla. The most exclusive deal of the three, they were both its first ever uniquely branded single malt bottlings - and the last for over a decade, as the distillery would disappear into the Flora & Fauna stable until 1998. We are delighted to feature examples of every one of these bottles in our April Auction.

Zenith imports

Truly landmark releases, the offerings from Zenith Italia provided a novel experience of these distilleries that would not be replicated again until United Distillers’ launch of the Rare Malts Selection in 1995. These were single malts for the emerging and increasingly engaged connoisseur, presented at high and cask strengths for the first time by the distillers themselves. As fascinating today as they were then, these were an ambitious and legacy-defining moment in the career of yet another important single malt pioneer.

This article is sponsored by Whisky Auctioneer and is created in partnership with the team at Whisky Magazine. This sponsorship does not influence Whisky Magazine's coverage of auctions and Whisky Auctioneer do not have input on editorial decisions.

About Whisky Auctioneer

Whisky Auctioneer is one of the global market leaders and trusted authorities on the buying and selling of whisky and spirits at auction. Founded in 2013 and located in Perth, Whisky Auctioneer utilises its expertise and knowledge combined with its auction platform, to increase interest and passion in the whisky and spirits community.

Whisky Auctioneer endeavours to make the market more accessible for buyers and sellers of any background and geography. Its monthly global auctions feature some of the most comprehensive selections of old, rare and collectible whiskies and spirits available online.

Whisky Auctioneer became the first online auction house to sell a million-pound bottle and outperformed the nearest traditional auction house by 200 per cent in value from spirits sales in 2020, showcasing the move that whisky collectors, investors and drinkers have already made online and firmly establishing their leading position within the modern secondary whisky market.

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