Supply and demand, of course, influences whether a wine’s value rises above its peers. But in order to qualify for the list of the seven most expensive bottles of wine in the world, your vintage must also contain a key ingredient: history.
It’s not merely about the taste or scent, nor the way it complements your palate. Rather, they make the cut because the story behind each wine attracted the interest of deep-pocketed wine aficionados. Today, let’s savour the aromatic tales of these seven in particular.
7) Chateau Margaux, 1787, $225,000
We’re going to start off with the most expensive wine in the world never to be sold. That being said, if it had been, it could have fetched one of the highest prices in history. This wine was the 1787 Chateau Margaux, once owned by Thomas Jefferson. Though it was up for auction in 1989 and valued at $500,000 by its owner, William Sokolin, no one ever got to taste it.
That’s because when Sokolin brought it to the Four Season Hotel for a Margaux dinner, a waiter accidentally knocked it over. The bottle was smashed to bits. Insurance paid $225,000 for the lost bottle of wine, but it was a tragic end to the story.
6) Chateau Lafite, 1869, $232,692
The value of a wine is difficult to put a finger on, in part because its worth is often less about the cost of its ingredients or objective quality relative to its peers. Rather, much of its value is based simply on what someone is willing to pay for it – a concept familiar to real estate investors.
There are few better examples than the 1869 vintage of Chateau Lafite. When three bottles of it went up for auction in Hong Kong, they were expected to fetch in the range of $8,000 each. Not bad. However, auctioneers underestimated the extent to which Chateau Lafite had become a rare and sought-after luxury in Asia. Low and behold, a bidding war sent the price soaring beyond $230,000. In the end, a single buyer bought all three bottles.
5) Heidsieck, 1907, $275,000
This is a great example of a wine whose price is based largely on the story behind it. At least 2,000 bottles of this wine were on a ship bound for Russia in 1916, to be delivered to the last tsar of Russia, Nicholas II.
But shipping wine – shipping anything, really – was risky business during the First World War, and a German U-boat sank the freighter carrying the precious cargo. The ship sat at the bottom of the Gulf of Finland for 80 years before the wreckage was discovered in 1997. Of the 2,000 bottles, less than 1,000 were drinkable, but they had been well-preserved at the bottom of the ocean away from natural light – well and truly nature’s wine cellar.
If your pockets aren’t deep and you’re not all that concerned with whether your wine has aged at the bottom of an ocean, you can pick up a 1996 version of this wine for about $120.
4) Cheval-Blanc, 1947, $304,000
Many consider this to be the best Bordeaux ever made, and it solidified Chateau Cheval Blanc’s standing as one of the world’s top winemakers. But what makes this bottle so notable is that it was produced during a season that was otherwise disastrous for the region. That year was marked by terrible weather that ruined crops and damaged wine cellars. Refrigerated wine-making had not yet been refined, and so the ruinous weather caused the yeast to go bad in many vats, and in other batches, the fermentation process came to a grinding halt.
Yet somehow, the batches that survived emerged as some of the best wines in the world, despite its many technical flaws. The unique conditions behind its creation mean this exact wine will never be replicated. As supplies of this wine have dwindled, its price has continued to climb. Bottles had been priced in the $12,000 range and, in 2008, a buyer purchased a case for $146,000. Later, a single bottle was sold at auction in Geneva for $304,000, making that $146,000 case worth in the range of $3.6 million. Lucky buyer!
3) Jeroboam of Chateau Mouton-Rothschild, 1945, $310,700
Anything with “Rothschild” in its name is bound to be expensive. But this wine comes by the name honestly, as the vineyard was purchased by Nathaniel Rothschild in 1853. Wines from that estate are consistently among the world’s priciest. The 1945 vintage is considered among the best produced in the last 100 years. Also notable about that year’s bottle is that its label was marked with a distinct “V” in honour of the Allied Forces’ victory in the Second World War.
2) Screaming Eagle Cabernet, 1992, $500,000
There is poetic justice in learning that one of the most expensive bottles of wine of all time is relatively new and comes not from ancient wine-growing areas, but rather from the United States. Only 175 cases of this wine from the Napa Valley were ever produced and the high demand quickly burned through that supply. It was only available at auction or through an exclusive mailing list.
The last sale took place in 2000 at a charity auction, suggesting the price may have been set by a deep-pocketed investor wishing to make a statement about Napa Valley wines, rather than indicating that this wine truly tops some of the more ancient and unique varieties on this list. Granted, buyers of this wine received plenty of bang for the buck, given that bottles of Screaming Eagle Cabernet are six litres in size..
1) Domaine de la Romanee-Conti, 1945, $558,000
Aside from its high price, there are many more reasons why sipping on a glass of 1945 Domaine de la Romanee-Conti is like drinking liquid gold. The grapes come from the town Vosne-Romanee, which creates the most sought-after Burgundy wines. The grand cu vineyards are meticulously cared for and pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, and herbicides are excluded from the process.
Only 600 bottles of this Burgundy wine were ever produced and, as each bottle disappears, the price goes up. The wine is being called a “unicorn wine” because it is so impossible to find. After the harvest of the original grapes, the vines used to make it were ripped up and new vines were planted for the 1952 vintage.
The Domaine de la Romanee-Conti is exclusively distributed by one of the biggest wine collectors in the world, Robert Drouhin, and his family. His family cellars are underneath the city of Beaune, Burgundy, and have been amassing for over a century. This wine in particular spent 50 years in the cellar before being brought out for auction.
Two bottles of the 1945 Domaine de la Romanee-Conti Both sold at an auction held by Sotheby’s in New York, and both were bought by the same gentleman. One went for $496,000, and the other for $558,000. It sold for more than 25 times its estimated price.
So there you have it, the seven most expensive bottles of wine in the world. Can’t afford any of them yourself? Don’t despair. If the bottle of wine you can afford won’t wow your guests, consider dressing it up in a wooden wine gift box. You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. But judging a bottle of wine by its box? That’s fair game. Build a custom wine box with us to show off your favourite vintages.