If any one substance has held together entire civilizations, it’s surely wine. Beloved by basically everyone – from yuppie soccer moms to homeless vagrants looking for a cheap buzz – wine is a regular treat for some and a staple of everyday life for others. Wine comes in various strengths, flavours and scents, all of which are determined through the production process which varies from vineyard to vineyard, but at its core winemaking is all about grapes. Wine is made by fermenting grapes and allowing the yeast to consume the sugars in the fruit and convert them into alcohol and carbon dioxide. The taste of one wine will differ from another because of the cultivation of the grape itself – what kind of soil is used, the climate of the area, etc – and also by the way that the winemakers will age and store the wine. It’s as much art as it is science, but it’s an art that we humans have been perfecting for thousands of years.
The first evidence of wine production comes from the area today known as Georgia in Eastern Europe almost 8,000 years ago. Knowledge of its production slowly spread to western Europe and by the time ancient Greece had hit its stride, wine was an established part of the culture. Wine was consumed en masse during the Roman empire, and was later incorporated into a fundamental part of christianity after the death of Jesus Christ – ‘the blood of christ’ was literally wine, that’s how important of a drink/drug it was to those cultures.
Today, wine consumption is a worldwide phenomenon. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the cultures that typically produce the best wine are also the ones that drink the most of it – namely the western European nations of France, Italy and Spain. That being said, wine is produced in huge quantities all over the world, including the USA and many South American countries. Globalization has made the business of wine an international trade, and consumers in most countries have grown accustomed to having wine from all over the world available nearby.
Despite all of this competition, the best and most expensive wines are generally bottles leftover from crops that were cultivated long ago. Ageing is a fundamental part of wine, and wine that’s been aged longer is generally considered to be of a finer quality. Fortunately for us, we can track the most expensive bottles of wine that have been sold. The price doesn’t always correspond to the quality – sometimes it’s inflated thanks to the perceived rarity of the bottle – but generally speaking the wines in this price bracket can be considered the most luxurious of their kind. These are the 10 most expensive bottles of wine ever sold.
#10 Royal DeMaria – $30,000
Canadian winery Royal DeMaria produced this bottle, which differs from the normal wine as it is an ice wine. Ice wine is produced in a unique way compared to most wines – the grapes are frozen on the vine before being fermented, creating a sweeter taste that makes ice wine a ‘desert wine’, as the perfect accompaniment to a sugary treat. They sold a particularly fine bottle of their vintage in 2006 for $30,000.
#9 1775 Massandra – $43,500
Massandra is an area in Crimea – which is either Russian or Ukranian, depending on who you ask – that has been well-known for its wine production for centuries. In 2001, a bottle of a wine from the Massandra region sold for $43,500. What made that particular bottle so valuable? It probably had something to do with the fact that the bottle in question was produced from a crop that was harvested in 1775. At the time of its sale, the wine in that bottle had been resting and ageing for 226 years. If it’s still sealed, today it is 239 years old – and the owner is only 11 years away from enjoying a bottle of 250-year-old wine. Whether it would still taste good enough to drink is up for debate, but chances are it’s more of a collector’s item at this point.
#8 1945 Château Mouton-Rothschild – $47,000
The famous Rothschild banking family is, in all likelihood, the wealthiest family to ever walk the face of the earth. Nathaniel Rothschild purchased the Château Mouton near Bordeaux, France in 1853. He converted the estate into a vineyard and it became one of the most well-respected winemaking operations in the world, getting shout-outs in classic James Bond films and becoming a well-known brand among luxury consumers. This particular bottle of a 1945 vintage was reserved specifically for the château’s owner, but was later sold at an auction to a fan who paid $47,000 for a chance to sample it.
#7 1787 Château d’Yquem – $100,000
In the world of luxury wines, red is often better than white. The only difference in production is the color of the grape; red wine is made using red grapes and white wine is made using white grapes. White wine tends to be better when paired with seafood and lighter meals, but it almost always plays second fiddle to red…almost always. Another product of a French château, this bottle of 1787 Château Yquem scored one for the white team when it sold for over $100,000 in a private transaction that involved a representative being flown across the ocean to deliver it by hand. Now that’s service.
#6 1811 Château d’Yquem – $117,000
As you can see, Château d’Yquem is no slouch when it comes to producing the finest of wines. Why would this bottle from their vineyard -produced in 1811, 24 years after the 1787 bottle – be sold for less than the older one? Generally, the older the bottle the higher the price, but that’s not always the case. The 1811 harvest at Château d’Yquem was considered exceptionally good, with some even going so far as to label it one of the best white wines ever. The fame of that year’s production means that the few remaining bottles of it still in circulation carry a hefty premium. It was purchased by sommelier Christian Vanneque, who plans to open it in 2017 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of his wine-tasting career.
#5 Romanée Conti 1945 – $123,900
Judging from a quick glance at the list, 1945 seemed to be a good year for ridiculously expensive wines. Plus, the end of the war and all that other stuff was probably a big deal too I guess. This bottle of Romanée Conti, made from a 1945 vintage, sold for $123,900 to an American collector at Christie’s fine-wine auction. Only 600 bottles were ever produced, making it an exceedingly rare vintage.
#4 1787 Château Lafite – $160,000
This bottle of 1787 Château Lafite was more than just an exceedingly rare and high quality bottle – it was from the personal collection of none other than Thomas Jefferson, and it even bore his initials. The bottle was purchased by Malcolm Forbes in 1985. The wine is no longer drinkable as the years and relatively rudimentary bottling process have spoiled it, but it’s a collector’s item that Mr. Forbes spared no expense in acquiring. The $160,000 he spent in 1985 would be worth around $315,000 today.
#3 1869 Château Lafite – $233,972
Although 80 years younger than its 1787 counterpart, this bottle of 1869 Château Lafite was sold for a massive $233,972 at an auction to an anonymous Asian buyer. Expected to sell for around $8,000 before the auction, the auctioneers were stunned to see it caught up in a bidding war that brought its price up close to a quarter-million. Unbeknownst to them, Château Latife is considered a luxury item in Asia and consequently carries a hefty premium.
#2 1907 Heidsieck – $275,000
This 1907 Heidsieck is stratospherically expensive, and with good reason. It was part of a small collection that was ordered specifically by the Russian imperial family of the early 20th century – the last tsar, Nicholas II of Russia. The wine was thought lost when the ship carrying it sank in 1916, but the wreckage was discovered in 1997. Each bottle of the batch sold for $275,000 – which is absurdly expensive for wine that no one was even sure would be drinkable after. Only a very small group of people know if ageing wine for a century on the ocean floor adds anything to the taste.
#1 1947 Château Cheval Blanc – $304,375
In the wine community, reputation carries as much weight as age, and, like the 1811 Château d’Yquem, the 1947 Château Cheval Blanc is a wine that has a tremendous reputation. Considered by many to be one of, if not the very best Bordeaux of all time, the bottle was sold at a Christie’s wine auction in Geneva to an anonymous buyer. The bottle can be kept for another 50 years under normal storage and still be consumed with no issue – which is ideal, seeing as how you would only want to pop open the world’s most expensive bottle of wine for a particularly momentous occasion.