HOPKINTON, Mass. (TheStreet) -- Wine sellers and enthusiasts routinely call it the greatest vintage of our time. A case of magnums filled with it went for $345,000, or $57,500 a bottle, at a 2006 Christie's auction in Beverly Hills. Little more than 151,000 were bottled and the vintage isn't expected to last another 30 years.

Despite all of this, a retailer in Hopkinton, Mass., left a bottle of 1945 Chateau Mouton Rothschild valued at $25,000 in an unlocked cooler. It doesn't require a moment of clarity to guess what happened next.

The 1945 Chateau Mouton Rothschild is considered one of the best wine vintages.

Four days after two men stole the bottle, it was tracked down with the help of an anonymous tip. With all respect to Hopkinton Wine and Spirits, a vintage with the history, rarity and value of fine artwork should be harder to access than a cold sixer of Bud Light Lime.

"I've been in the best wine cellars in New England with 20,000 bottles, including several bottles of the type that was just stolen," says Brian Wilson, owner of Hopkinton-based Boston Wine Cellar Designs. "They all have locks on them."

Given the vintage's back story, it's a wonder that the '45 isn't under bulletproof glass at the Louvre guarded by lasers and starving dogs. In the waning days of World War II, French winemakers were only just recovering their capacity after the Nazis occupied and plundered the Bordeaux region. Using what little resources they had at their disposal, they grew their grapes in a tumultuous year marked not only by the fall of Berlin, but by a rare May frost in the estate's home village of Pauillac followed by a summer of extreme heat and drought.

Those factors led to a wine that critic Robert Parker described as "easily identifiable because of its remarkably exotic, over-ripe, sweet nose of black fruits, coffee, tobacco, mocha and Asian spices." As one Boston-area wine merchant remarked "You can smell it a mile away."

Baron Philippe de Rothschild added to the vintage's mystique by dedicating it to the "year of victory" and commissioning painter Philippe Jullian to produce a design based on Winston Churchill's "V" for the top of its label. From 1945 on, each new vintage's label was crowned with works by artists including Jean Cocteau, Salvador Dali, Marc Chagall, Andy Warhol, Keith Haring and Francis Bacon.

Those features drive the true costs of owning rare vintages by

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LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton




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. The premiums at Fireman's Fund Insurance, a unit of


( AZ), insure wine collections up to $50,000 a bottle against not only theft, but failures in heating, cooling and humidity control.

Oenophiles should also consider securing their collections in storage fortresses such as the International Wine Vault in Boston, which charges between $276 a year to store 18 cases and $7,200 annually to hold 1,080 cases in magnetically sealed units that require coded access and are locked down after business hours.

Of course, you could always do something as simple as putting your wine behind a locked door. Joe Quartarone, whose Bay Colony Wine Cellars in Andover, Mass., provides wine storage for the Legal Sea Foods restaurant chain, says the easiest way for a business to secure its bottles is to follow Legal's lead by maintaining a climate controlled environment and making sure that every person who comes in for a scallop platter doesn't have access to your 1995 Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame.

"If they want a wine that's not behind the bar, they have to get the manager who has the key," he says. "It's the easiest thing you can do."

-- Reported by Jason Notte in Boston


Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet.com. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Esquire.com, Time Out New York, The Boston Herald, The Boston Phoenix, Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent.