NYC Somm Pulls Ultimate Pro Move, Sneaks $5000 Bottle on Top of the Eiffel Tower

Posted November 25, 2014

Steve Unwin


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I really never planned to tell anyone any of the details but I guess it's a pretty cool story. 

-Michael Madrigale


Recently, sommelier Michael Madrigale did something amazing. The Wine Director of NYC institutions Bar Boulud and Boulud Sud managed to sneak a fabulously rare and expensive bottle of wine into a highly-secured area, and drink it in a style that most of us wine mortals can only dream of.

In other words, he smuggled a bottle of 1985 Domaine de la Romaneé-Conti Montrachet Grand Cru atop the Eiffel Tower, and proceeded to drink what we can only assume was the single most satisfying glass of wine in history.

When he documented his escapades on the wine app Delectable, we immediately reached out to get the whole story.

The year it all started

In 1985, at the age of eight, Michael was visiting family in Paris when his grandfather took him on a journey he’d never forget. “He snuck me out of my hotel room late one night up to the Eiffel Tower without my parents even knowing.“ Michael told us in an email interview. “It meant a lot to me and I never forgot this moment.“ Later that year, his grandfather passed away at the age of 85.

“I always had on my bucket list the idea of going back to Paris and to the top of the Eiffel Tower again at night and with an '85 French wine," Michael told us. Over the years, as Burgundy became a passion for him, it became clear that DRC was the only option. Especially considering that the French version of his grandfather’s name, Albert, is Aubert, the same as the co-director of the sacred Burgundian estate, Aubert de Villaine. “The best for the best!” As Michael puts it.

“After putting away a lot of tips over the years, I was able to source an awesome bottle of this '85 DRC Montrachet,” Madrigale told us. So anybody who has slipped this oenological madman a $20 over the years can take comfort that they were, in some small way, partner to this fantastic event.

The wine

Domaine de la Romaneé-Conti (or DRC) is Burgundy’s most venerated estate. The sole exception to Burgundy’s rule against naming estates after vineyards, DRC creates Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays that grace every oenophile's “drink before you die” list. With only small amounts produced, and sold for often exorbitant prices, few will ever taste a DRC wine, and even fewer will own a bottle. Le Montrachet is DRC’s only white wine*. Coming from the Montrachet vineyard, it is thought to be the finest expression of the Chardonnay grape on the planet. On top of all that, 1985 was a banner year for white Burgundy, and thought by some to be the vintage of the decade. Wine searcher currently shows the '85 Montrachet at somewhere around $5,500.

A windy night and a puffy coat

It turns out that despite the Parisians' love for wine, it’s particularly difficult to get a bottle of wine into the Eiffel Tower. Michael cited a recent terrorism alert as a cause for particularly assiduous security staff who managed to catch him and kick him out of the tower during two earlier attempts.

”So with three strikes, and ready to give up, I said f*%k it, and shoved the bottle down my pants,” he said, adding that “unless they gave me a cavity search I thought I'd make it.” City of love, indeed.

What followed was positively Bond-ian in its sneakiness. Enlisting a friend to feign tripping as a distraction, Michael managed to make it in past the initial security detail undetected, but that was just the first step. Before him now were police officers with metal detectors. Michael took advantage of the fact that it was nearly closing time to bombard an officer with questions, exhausting him into waiving Michael through and into the elevator.

A view from the top

Michael's final obstacle was an unexpected one: video cameras. He made a circuit of the platform until he found cover behind a column, whipped out the Zalto glass he’d stowed in a pocket, and filled it to the brim before taking what might be the most satisfying sip in wine history. The rest is best taken directly from Michael's words:

“The wine, the city of Paris on a crystal clear night looking north at the Arc de Triomphe as I swirled the golden nectar of the gods with this huge viscosity and a finish that seemed to last forever... I just smiled and remembered just for a moment what it was like to be 8 again. I gave a toast to my great grand pop who must have been looking down on me that night. Looking for a taste.”

Cheers, Michael.

DRC also produces a miniscule amount of Bâtard-Montrachet which is rarely consumed outside of the domain itself.


Steve Unwin (call him Stunwin) cut his teeth in the Washington Wine industry working in tastings rooms on the Red Mountain AVA. In NYC he became an early employee of the wine startup Lot18, where he would eventually earn his Advanced WSET cerification with distinction. Currently, he works with internet wine legend Gary Vaynerchuk creating awesome content all over the internets.

You can check out Mike's fantastic Instagram account here.