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Sunday, December 11, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Katrina leaves sauvignon swill

The Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS — In the dark, dank recesses of what was once one of the great wine cellars of the world, the fabled bottles sit. The 1870 Lafite Rothschild, the Château Moutons, Château Margaux, fine wines with enormous price tags, or at least they were.

The wine cellar at Brennan's Restaurant, winner since 1983 of Wine Spectator magazine's Grand Award as one of the 85 top cellars in the world, has 35,000 bottles that since Hurricane Katrina have gone from vintage to vinegar.

"They may be drinkable, but they're probably better for salads," said Ted Brennan, whose brother Jimmy spent 35 years building the collection.

The Brennan's wine cellar covers two floors in what was once the carriage house of the 1795 French Quarter mansion-turned-restaurant. Domestic wines are stacked to the ceiling on the first floor, European vintages on the second floor. Behind a locked gate is the private collection, dusty bottles of fine wines so costly they have waited for years for someone to taste them.

The collection, insured for $1 million, was ruined when the electricity went off after the hurricane. The wine cellar, normally kept at 58 degrees year-round, was suddenly at the mercy of the broiling sun.

"It got so hot those few weeks, I know it easily got to 120 degrees in there," Brennan said. "The wine was literally cooked."

There was also damage when cases of wine fell during the storm, exploding and spewing their contents over other bottles.

Before rebuilding the cellar, the Brennans will send the remaining bottles to a man in California who bought them from the insurance company, Ted Brennan said. The man plans to auction them.

"Someone might want to buy a special bottle to commemorate an occasion," Brennan said. "Or someone might want to roll the dice and hope to get a rare vintage cheap and be able to drink it."

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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