The opposite of the value wines we have been exploring for the last few weeks are the iconic wines for which there seems to be no price too high.
This class includes special vintages from the usual list of great wines, where individual bottles have been sold at exorbitant prices. Examples include Château Mouton-Rothschild 1945, with 1945 being one of the most renowned vintages of the 20th century, produced by one of the five red Premier Grand Crus Classés of Bordeaux. A bottle of this wine might cost you $20,000.
Wine from a neighbouring property in Bordeaux, Château Lafite-Rothschild 1869, was sold in 2010 to an Asian buyer for $233,000!
This was an example of where absolute rarity trumps the likely quality of the wine after so many years.
Other regions have also produced big price tags, including an ancient Massandra from Crimea, and a special bottle of Australian Penfold’s 2004 Block 42 wine sold a couple of years ago in Toronto for $168,000.
The Guinness Book of World Records currently lists the most expensive wine sold at auction to be an Imperial sized bottle of Château Cheval Blanc 1947 at £192,000 ($350,000), eclipsing a bottle of Heidsieck Champagne 1907 which had been recovered after spending 80 years underwater in a shipwreck and later sold for $275,000.
A bottle of Domaine Romanée Conti 1945 fetched $123,900, but that is not particularly unusual for wines from the leading name in Burgundy. The Wine Searcher website has compiled a list of the 50 most expensive wines based on its database of millions of wine offerings averaged over many vintages.
Wines from Burgundy account for 38 of these Top 50, and of these six are from Domaine Romanée Conti.
Besides Burgundy there are entries such as Screaming Eagle from California, several sweet wines from Germany, Petrus and Le Pin from Bordeaux, and rare port from Portugal.
There are many other iconic wines that, while expensive, are not quite so ethereal as this list.
Besides the red first growths of Bordeaux there is also Château d’Yquem from Sauternes, and elsewhere in France we have the “La La” Côte-Rôtie wines from Guigal of the Rhône — La Turque, La Mouline and La Landonne.
Great wines from Spain include Vega Sicilia and Domaine de Pingus from Ribero del Duero, and Clos Mogador and Alvaro Palacios from Priorat. Big names in Italian wine tend to come from Tuscany with its Brunellos and super-Tuscans, and Piedmont with its Barolos.
Wines such as Sassicaia from Tenuta San Guido, Barolos from Conterno and Gaja, Solaia from Antinori and Brunellos from Soldera are at the top of the price lists.
Australian names include Grange, Hentshcke Hill of Grace, Greenock and more.
Besides being some of the best wines produced in the best wine locations in the world, the demand for such wines far exceeds supply. Some of these are produced in only “cult” quantities while others, such as the major Bordeaux labels, are a little more plentiful.
The entry of more well-financed buyers from emerging markets in Asia, Russia and elsewhere has driven some prices to atmospheric levels. Poor harvests due to events such as hail in Burgundy have reduced recent crops from some of the most sought-after regions, reducing supply even further, and havedriven prices beyond the reach of even well-heeled buyers.
For those buyers and those who might want to splurge for a superior wine now and then, the hunt for value means looking for a wine that resembles some of these greats, but which can be obtained for a fraction of the price.
One such wine might be the Wolf Blass Premium Selection (White Label) Chardonnay (NLC $24.57). The aroma was abundant yet subtle with layers of fruit and nuances of oak. There was elegance in the glass as well, that put one in mind of a good white Burgundy. Score 16/Very Good.
Steve Delaney is a member of the Opimian Society.
Email him at email@example.com. Twitter: @delaneystephen.