Aaron (Addy) Bassin, 60, the owner and operator of MacArthur Liquors in Washington since founding it in 1958 who was a noted wine authority and enthusiast, died of cancer July 19 at his home in Bethesda.
Mr. Bassin, whose store boasts one of the area's largest and most varied wine departments in the area, made headlines over the years for his record purchases of fine bottles. In 1977 alone, he gained notoriety with two major purchases.
That spring, he purchased a Jeroboam of 1929 Chateau Mouton-Rothschild at the Premier National Auction of Rare Wines in New Orleans. The bidding was opened at $6,000 for the rare bottle. Mr. Bassin immediately bid $10,000 and, amid gasps, was awarded the bottle. He went on to spend an additional $20,000 in rare wines for his store. The Mouton-Rothschild was exhibited in his store for a year.
In September, he flew to London and attended a Christie's auction, where he paid $14,450 for an 1806 bottle of French Chateau Lafite claret. The purchase, on behalf of a friend and client, set a record price for one bottle of wine.
Fortunately for his customers, few of the bottles at the store that he and his wife, the former Ruth Shulman, operated sold for quite so much. Yet everything from jug wines to the rarest of vintages were sold there. Mr. Bassin was willing to advise anyone on wine, and was even known to steer customers from high-priced vintages to excellent wines selling for much less.
He attended to everyone from the shopper looking for a simple bottle of wine to the Carter White House when it was seeking guidance about California champagnes for a state dinner.
Years ago, when the store was about half its present size, Mr. Bassin announced he planned to expand and devote the extra space to more wines. Many people in the business advised against it, telling him that Washington was not really a wine town and more money could be made in hard liquor. Yet, he persisted, his wife designed what became a new store, and his success was enormous.
In a 1977 interview, he described himself as "more a wine hobbyist than businessman at this point." This spirit contributed to MacArthur Liquors becoming the local institution it is.
Over the years, Mr. Bassin often traveled overseas in search of wines and in bottlings that could become house brands. In 1983, he sponsored what is believed to have been the first Washington antique wine auction. Two months ago, he hosted an advance tasting of California wines.
Mr. Bassin was born in Washington and served in the Navy during World War II. In his youth, he had been a Golden Gloves boxer. He was a graduate of Coolidge High School where he was all-city in basketball and as a football receiver and quarterback. His family had long been active as area food purveyors, nightclub owners and liquor store owners. Before starting MacArthur Liquors, he owned and operated other stores in Washington.
In addition to his wife, of Bethesda, survivors include a son, Bruce, also of Bethesda; two daughters, Gail B. Stempler of Washington, and Barbara B. Appelbaum of Bethesda; a brother, Sol, and two sisters, Yetta Goldman and Dora Tranen, both of Chevy Chase, and five grandchildren. CAPTION: Picture 1, Aaron Bassin. . . with $14,450 bottle of wine. ASSOCIATED PRESS