The 1811 vintage was exceptional in many European wine-growing regions and is considered the best of the previous three centuries. Among other things the red wines of Château Lafite-Rothschild (at that time Château Lafite) and Château d'Yquem, a Riesling from the Bassermann-Jordan winery as well as Tokajer in general are called. Wines of this vintage are also known as "Napoleon wine", because the Emperor Napoleon (1769-1821) had reached the peak of his fame at that time. His son Napoleon II was also born in this year. A Château d'Yquem of this vintage sold for € 85,000 in 2011 and is one of the most expensive wines in the world. The wines from the year were also titled century wines. The name comet wine was coined in the vernacular because a comet discovered by Honoré Flaugergues (1755-1830) appeared, one of the three largest comets ever sighted; its tail length was well over 100 million kilometres. The comet was said to have had an influence on the outstanding quality of the wine.
In Germany, according to preserved records, the musts had 80 to 85 °Oechsle (16 to 17 °KMW) and "were weighed in gold". Here the vintage was called "Elfer" (or "Eilfer"). Johann W. von Goethe (1749-1832) also mentioned it in his West-Eastern Divan with the verse "In what wine did Alexander get drunk, I bet the last spark of life: it was not as good as mine". At another point he rhymes: "Do not put the jug so roughly in front of my nose, you ruffian! Whoever brings me wine, look at me kindly, otherwise the haste clouds the glass". Specifically, this was a Riesling from the Winkeler Hasensprung (Rheingau) vineyard of the Brentano Winery (the land is now owned by the Schloss Vollrads Winery).
In a preserved letter to the Bassermann-Jordan Winery in Deidesheim-Pfalz from 1820, Goethe ordered an 1811 one for a stay at a health resort. This was a plant from the Forster Ungeheuer vineyard (Rheingau). Probably this was not a varietal Riesling, but a mixed set of Riesling, Traminer and Orléans, which was still widespread at the time. The reason for the extreme longevity is attributed to the tannins of the thick-skinned Orléans vine. The weather conditions in Germany this year were extremely favourable for a high quality wine. A moderately cold winter was followed in February by the beginning of dry and warm spring weather, which lasted until May. The summer began, so to speak, already in May and was followed by a warm and long autumn.
Other reasons cited are the whole grape fermentation that was common at the time, strong sulphurization, long barrel ageing and root authenticity. Wines from the pre-Phylloxera period (before the phylloxera) are said to have been considerably richer in extract. Two incidents testify to the longevity. In a letter from 1883, the Prussian Chancellor Otto Fürst von Bismarck (1815-1898) thanked the Bassermann-Jordan Winery for sending a Riesling from the Ungeheuer vineyard to celebrate his birthday. And at a tasting in front of a select audience in 1999 (i.e. 186 years old), such a bottle was not only judged to be edible, but phenomenal. By the way, the cellar of Bassermann-Jordan still contains stocks from 1811, the next year 1812 produced only few wines and 1813 was even extremely bad. It is said that after a frosty winter in 1813/1814 the first Rheingau ice wine was pressed.
There is a special story about five bottles of Château Haut-Brion 1811. The US banker Henry Sturgis Morgan (1900-1982) visited the famous Parisian restaurant "Tour de l'Auberge" in 1931. The owner gave him a special tour of the house's wine cellar and showed him his most precious rarity, namely the five bottles mentioned above. Morgan wanted to buy these crescents at any price, but the owner said they were not for sale. Shortly after Morgan's departure from Paris, the restaurant owner was horrified to discover that two of the bottles were missing. In their place he found a letter from Morgan: "I'm sorry, I had to have your Haut-Brion. Please quote a price, a blank check is enclosed." The thief was a bodyguard of Morgan, an ex-gangster. The cheque is kept in the house's curio shop, but the deposited amount was never passed. See also under Records.