By: Kristine Hansen
Unsurprisingly, most wines are consumed shortly after purchase and sell for under $50 a bottle. That said, from time to time, wine auctions ripple with excitement over coveted finds that command staggering prices. When examining the most expensive wines ever sold, there are a variety of attributes that make these particular bottles so attractive.
So what makes these unique wines so valuable? And why are wine lovers and collectors alike watching the results of these auctions like hawks? These valuable wines are often linked to historical events and happenings within the wine industry, including memorable vintages. But they could also be connected to famous people or events. In fact, two of the bottles on this list were said to be owned by Thomas Jefferson.
These record-breaking sales at auction are documented in the news and generate considerable buzz among wine enthusiasts. A small pool of collectors view these auctions with great interest, hunting down rare wines to tuck away and open when the time is right. Similar to the owners of private-art collections always in search of the next Picasso or Warhol, wine collectors are always in search of the perfect bottle.
Read on to learn more about nine of the most expensive wines ever sold.
1. 1945 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti
Price Realized: $558,000
Year Sold: 2018
What Drove the Price: In 1945, only 600 bottles of this world-famous wine were produced. This was also the last year grapes were harvested from the winery’s older vines before younger ones were planted in their place.
Sometimes referred to simply as DRC, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti is one of Burgundy, France’s most storied vineyards, often commanding high prices at auction. But in 2018, a bottle of 1945 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti from a private collection—estimated to sell at $32,000—was sold by Sotheby’s for 17 times that, realizing $558,000. The auction’s record-breaking price was so influential that many believe it impacted what a bottle of the same vintage, same wine, sold for shortly thereafter ($496,000).
2. 1992 Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon
Price Realized: $500,000
Year Sold: 2000
What Drove the Price: The Napa winery’s inaugural vintage was in 1992.
Sold for $500,000 at the 2000 Auction Napa Valley, this record breaking Screaming Eagle Winery sale happened to take place in the winery’s backyard, rather than at a European or New York-based auction house. Also of note—the wine was only eight years old, rather than dating back to the middle of last century like many wines sold at auction. The long wait list to become a club member and the limited production size (around 500 cases annually) makes Screaming Eagle Winery a cult favorite even with their relatively new vintages.
3. 1945 Château Mouton-Rothschild
Price Realized: $310,000
Year Sold: 2006
What Drove the Price: Bordeaux’s later-than-normal frost in early May of 1945 reduced the vintage to its smallest since 1915; grapes were very ripe, too, with alcohol content as high as 15 percent.
Each bottle of Château Mouton-Rothschild’s 1945 vintage features an illustrated “V” for victory, signifying the end of World War II. Prior to the 1945 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti sale in 2018 (listed above), this wine—crafted from grapes harvested in the Médoc region of Bordeaux, France and also sold through Sotheby’s—held the record for the most expensive wine ever sold. As a jeroboam (the equivalent of six wine bottles), the winning wine was much larger than a 750mL bottle, but auctioneers estimated a 750mL’s value at approximately $60,000.
4. 1947 Château Cheval Blanc
Price Realized: $304,375
Year Sold: 2010
What Drove the Price: The 1947 is believed to be one of the winery’s two greatest vintages (the other is 1921).
Snug in Bordeaux’s Saint-Émilion appellation, Château Cheval Blanc has been making wines since 1832. At a Christie’s auction in 2010, the winning bid for this imperial-size bottle (equivalent to eight 750mL bottles) was, at the time, a world record for a single bottle at auction.
5. 1907 Piper-Heidsieck Champagne
Price Realized: $275,000
Year Sold: uncertain
What Drove the Price: Virtually untouched after a 1916 ship wreck off the coast of Finland, en route to the Imperial Court of Czar Nicholas II of Russia, 200 bottles of this wine were discovered by divers during the late 1990s (the 2,000-bottle lot also included other wines).
Now dubbed “Shipwreck Champagne” in wine circles, the only place you can buy the 1907 Piper-Heidsieck is at The Ritz-Carlton in Moscow, which scooped up a dozen of these bottles. At $275,000—the highest price a bottle of it has sold at auction—the 1907 Piper-Heidsieck is also the world’s priciest bottle of Champagne. Learn more about the different types of Champagne and sparkling wine here.
6. 1869 Château Lafite-Rothschild
Price Realized: $232,682
Year Sold: 2010
What Drove the Price: Two firsts: the first vintage bottled at Lafite and the first vintage under Baron James de Rothschild’s ownership.
At a Sotheby’s auction in Hong Kong in 2010, three bottles of this wine from Château Lafite Rothschild in Bordeaux, France, were sold for $232,682 a piece, marking the world’s most expensive bottle of 750mL wine ever sold at the time. Because the wine dates back to a pre-phylloxera vintage (in the late 1800s many of the region’s wines were ripped out of the ground due to this devastating disease), it’s even more special.
7. 1787 Château Margaux
Price Realized: $225,000
Year Sold: 1980s
What Drove the Price: Thought to have been owned by Thomas Jefferson due to his etched initials on the bottle’s glass. Chateau Margaux is also one of only four wineries in Bordeaux granted first-growth status in the 1855 Classification. Even newer vintages command high prices at auction, although certainly not this high.
Thomas Jefferson, thought to be America’s most wine-loving president to date, adored French wines. Despite Jefferson owning this actual bottle from Chateau Margaux, the 1787 vintage is what made it so coveted when wine merchant William Sokolin discovered it in 1985. He had it insured for $225,000 four years later. Unfortunately, it was broken in error when opened at the Four Seasons in New York City in 1989. Ooops! 1787 Château Margaux also is the most expensive bottle of wine ever broken—and technically never sold.
8. 2004 Penfolds Kalimna Block 42 Cabernet Sauvignon
Price Realized: $168,000
Year Sold: 2012
What Drove the Price: It’s packaged within a hand-blown glass ampoule inside a wooden cabinet and there are only a dozen bottles.
Although not sold at auction, the $168,000 retail price of the 2004 Kalimna Block 42 Cabernet Sauvignon is memorable. Penfolds, a winery in Australia’s Barossa Valley, commissioned 12 special bottles of the 2004 Kalimna Block 42 Cabernet Sauvignon, normally sold for $661 without the high-end packaging. Cabinet maker Andrew Bartlett fashioned the wood cabinet that was folded into the retail price while glass sculptor Nick Mount worked on the ampoule, Hendrik Forster the metalsmithing, and Ray Leake the glassblowing. All work in South Australia.
9. 1787 Château Lafite
Price Realized: $156,450
Year Sold: 1985
What Drove the Price: Like the 1787 Château Margaux, this wine was thought to have been owned by Thomas Jefferson, as indicated by his initials etched on the bottle’s glass.
Château Lafite in Bordeaux—owned by the Rothschild family since the 19th Century—was reportedly one of Jefferson’s favorite wines and he owned this particular bottle, which The Forbes Group (Malcolm Forbes) bought from Christie’s London office in 1985, for $156,450. Jefferson reportedly even visited the estate in Bordeaux. During the wine’s production, its main clientele were wealthy patrons throughout Europe.
Featured image via UnSplash
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