Supply and demand of course influences whether a wine’s value rises above its peers. But to truly transcend the wine world and qualify for the list of the five most expensive bottles of wine in the world, a bottle of plonk must also contain a key ingredient: a great story.
You’ll see from this list that the top five most expensive bottles in the world don’t just qualify because they taste better than other wines (though we sure hope they do for those prices). Rather, they make the cut because the story behind each wine attracted the interest of deep-pocketed wine aficionados.
5) 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 its 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. But 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.
4) 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 wine. 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 – 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.
3) 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 wine 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 sold at auction in Geneva for $304,000, making that $146,000 case worth in the range of $3.6 million. Lucky buyer!
2) 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.
1) Screaming Eagle Cabernet, 1992, $500,000
There is poetic justice in learning that the most expensive bottle 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 got bang for the buck given that bottles of Screaming Eagle Cabernet contain six litres of the good stuff.
So there you have it, the five 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.