Fine wine is a wonderful thing. In each bottle of truly great vino, we can experience the expertise of the vintner, using heritage vines which date back a century, and which grow on some of the most exquisite terroirs. However, when it comes to the truly elite bottles of wine, commanding the highest prices, many of these bottles will probably never be opened by their buyers. Instead they will be cellared and treasured, kept in carefully temperature and humidity controlled conditions in order to add to their value, as they will be destined one day for the auction house as the investments they are.
As we approach the midway point through 2017, the wine dealing season is upon us, and several highly collectible and extremely valuable cases of wine will be coming up for sale. The rich and powerful of the world will be keeping their eyes peeled for some of these bottles, as signifiers of taste and class, as collector’s items and investments for the future. We’ve put together a brief rundown of the five most expensive wines ever sold; each of which represents a genuine slice of viticultural history, and each of which has a fascinating story to tell. Will any wines this year reach such lofty heights? Hopes are high, and the luxury wine sector is booming with increased interest from China… so you never know!
1787 Chateau Margaux
Fetching an astounding $225,000 US at auction, this premier cru Bordeaux winery has been famed for their fine blended red wines for centuries. When this bottle came up for auction, it came with an impressive story – it had been part of the widely-admired collection of none other than Thomas Jefferson. However, it was dropped by a clumsy (or extremely nervous) wine merchant, who saw it smash to pieces before his very eyes. As such, nobody even got a chance to taste it, and its value is based on the amount the insurance company was willing to pay out. Tragic!
1896 Chateau Lafite
Is it any surprise that most of this list features the great wineries of Bordeaux? This wine region fairly consistently demands the highest prices for historic bottles, but this example is fairly exceptional: the $230,000 US price tag was – in 2010 – the highest price ever paid for a single bottle of wine, and was bought by a collector who had already bought the only other two existing bottles of 1896 Chateau Lafite.
A haul of 2000 bottles of fine champagne were salvaged from the wreck of a Swedish ship, sunk off the coast of Finland by World War I German submarines. In 1998, they came up for auction, with the most valuable bottle being sold for $275,000 US. One hundred years of flavour and maturation, and a story which involves the personal wine collection of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia and the world’s first torpedo attacks makes for a valuable combination.
What do you get when you combine St. Emilion – arguably the greatest fine wine appellation in the world – with the legendary 1947 vintage which produced some of the most ageworthy grapes ever seen? A bottle of Cheval-Blanc worth $304,375 US – sold at a private Christie’s auction in 2010.
1992 Screaming Eagle
The world’s first half a million dollar bottle of wine. The sale of this bottle was completely exceptional for many reasons; firstly, unlike every other bottle on this list (indeed, probably unlike every bottle in the top 20 or even 50 most valuable wines sold at auction) this wasn’t a bottle of any considerable age – it wasn’t even 10 years old at the time of the auction. Secondly, it’s a New World wine, which historically haven’t picked up anywhere near the same sort of prices as the fine wines of Europe (although Australia’s Penfolds isn’t far behind). However, this bottle was sold at a charity auction, which may go some way towards explaining its stellar price, and apparently it genuinely was one of the finest bottles to have ever come out of the Napa Valley.