Most Expensive Wines in the World


Fine wines are like fine art or antiques. Exceptional vintages from the best vineyards sell for thousands of pounds per bottle. And wine collectors are willing to pay astounding prices for old and rare wines, especially those approaching cult status says Reva K Singh, editor and publisher of Sommelier India in her column for Outlook Magazine.
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In December 1766, when James Christie opened his sales rooms in London, his first auction consisted of the estate of a “deceased nobleman” containing “a large Quantity of Madeira and high Flavour’d Claret”. (Claret is what the British call red Bordeaux.) The total proceeds of the sale came to the grand sum of £175! Little did Christie’s founder know that 200 years later, in 1985, his auction house would sell just one bottle of red Bordeaux for £105,000.
The 1787 Chateau Lafite is the world’s most expensive bottle of wine. Its antiquity alone would have fetched a good price but what made it particularly attractive (especially to American collectors) was that it had the initials “Th.J.” etched in the glass. The bottle originally belonged to Thomas Jefferson, who helped draft the American constitution and was the third president of the United States. Jefferson also served as US ambassador to France and was a keen oenophile. He visited the vineyards of Bordeaux and Burgundy frequently to buy wine for his personal collection and his friends.
After 200 years the 1787 Lafite is no longer drinkable. It fetched the price it did as a trophy wine, a piece of Jefferson memorabilia, which is now a part of the Forbes Collection in New York.
Talking of trophy wines, one wine connoisseur has just spent £55,000 or US$100,000 for a 1787 vintage Sauternes from Château Yquem in Bordeaux which is probably the highest price ever paid for a bottle of white wine. Is this wine undrinkable too? Not according to Stephen Williams, Managing Director of London based Antique Wine Company who sourced and completed the deal. He says, “Château Yquem is a sweet wine made from completely shrivelled up, late harvested grapes. It has the concentration that enables it to mature for many years, even centuries.”
The Antique Wine Company acquired the valuable bottle from a private collector in France. Williams, who picked it up in his private plane, will now fly to The United States to personally deliver the wine to his US client. “It might be the most expensive and pampered travelling companion I’ve ever had,” Williams said, “but providing highly personal service is what our business is all about, and at £10,000 per glass I have to be sure that our client is left with a sweet taste in his mouth!”
The greatest vineyards naturally make the greatest wines and certain vintages such as 2005 in Bordeaux are extraordinary. This is the vintage year to sample if you want to know what an archetypal Lafite, Latour, Mouton, Margaux or Haut Brion is like.
However, the prices of the 2005 clarets are already almost beyond reach. Chateau Lafite Rothschild is selling for $600 per bottle, Chateau Margaux for $760 and Chateau Petrus, an eye-popping, $2,000. These prices are for wines still aging in barrels. (This is called buying futures or en primeur.) Many are marked with a 20-years-plus sign for optimum quality. David Peppercorn, MW (Master of Wine), calls 2005 a young man’s vintage. If you are over 50, you may not see these wines at their peak. So this is the wine to bequeath to the next generation!
If you are a collector of fine wines, I would spend on the classics, rather than the cult wines. In Bordeaux, as a rule of thumb, buy clarets from great producers in the bad years and from unknown producers in the good years. There is so much hype surrounding the good years that prices of top labels go through the roof. In the not so good years, however, wine connoisseurs stay away from the big names, and the prices come down.
Indian wines are not designed to last so long, but I am still tempted to lay down Grover’s award-winning La Reserve 2002. Not to sell again or leave behind in my will (I doubt my sons will regard it as a precious heirloom) but to see if some years later it is still worthy of its title as the Best New World Red that it was rated in a blind tasting in London.
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