What’s The Most Expensive Bottle Of Wine You’ve Ever Had? (Also: Pricey Champagne And Port As Bargains? Yes!)

Vinted on September 27, 2011 binned in best of, commentary

Last week, the report of a single bottle of 62-year-old Dalmore single malt scotch whisky going for $200,000 (to – who else! – a Chinese businessman!) got me thinking about how f*cking expensive a hobby enjoying fine boozy beverages really is.

Most of us aren’t plunking down the better part of the median U.S. house sale price for a bottle of Scotch or vino (or anything else), of course.  But Collecting and imbibing vino is not for the cheap or the faint-of-pocketbook. It’s got to be right up there with golf (and, I’ll add from personal experience, in-line hockey) in terms of expensive hobbies.

But then, it’s so much more than just a hobby for us geeks, right?!??  That makes it all okay, right?!??  RIGHT?!????

Some wines are clearly undervalued these days.  Champagne is often a bargain even at the high-end – hear me out before you toss the flames: when you consider the quality you’re getting, and the price vs. the production costs, the potential longevity of the better examples, and the fact that some of the best stuff out there can be had for just over $100 when it comes out… I think there’s strong case to be made for saying that Champagne can be a decent deal even at the higher-end of the price spectrum.

Same thing for Sherry and Port, without a doubt in my mind.  Sauternes is an example of a wine that’s crazy-expensive to make, and it’s priced accordingly at the high-end, but Sherry and Port are also difficult, time-consuming, and labor-intensive to make – and while the best of them can age for a crazy amount of time and can probably be enjoyed someday by your crazy grandkids, they offer way more crazy bang for the buck (yes, even when they’re in $75 and up range – of course they are different experiences entirely to Sauternes, however). Just a lot of crazy there, generally.

You can admit it – you’ve bought a wine that seemed really, really, maybe crazily expensive for your budget.  Did it deliver the goods?  Did it knock off your vinous socks?  Maybe most pointedly (and I think likely most telling), would you do it again? Was that wine so good that you became a repeat customer even with the lofty sticker price?

In my soon-to-be new line of work, I’ve had the great fortune to have tasted a fair amount of expensive vino – nothing like the $200K most-expensive-drink-ever price tag, but certainly bottles worth hundreds of shekels a pop.  Of those, here are the most memorable for me (or at least the ones I can most clearly remember!):

Two things stand out about each of the above wines for me – aside from the obvious fact that they’re all expensive as f*ck, I mean:

  1. I remember clearly the circumstances in which I tasted them, and in all three cases those circumstances exponentially increased my enjoyment of those wines.
  2. All of them predate my first appearance on planet Earth (though in the case of the J.J. Prüm, only slightly!). There’s just something about older wines, and he mystery and history behind them, that captivates our imaginations, isn’t there?

Actually, something else stands out about them as well – I didn’t pay a dime for any of them.  Though I would have, if given the chance.  The fact of the matter is that I don’t buy a lot of wine these days, and much of it is under $30 when I do.  I am far, far, far more likely to throw down $250 on a mixed case of off-the-beaten-path white (and/or dessert) wines (particularly under-appreciated things like Riesling and Rioja Blanco) than I am on a high-end cult red from California.  Nothing against those high-end CA reds, it’s just that I get sent a lot of those wines as samples these days, and being a fan of novelty I start to gravitate towards change and differentiation from the norm of the moment.  Also, some of that shiz is just tiring to drink after a while!

I can also tell you that I’ve probably tasted more wines that were expensive and I felt weren’t really worth – or just about worth – the price tags than I have very expensive wines that seemed to deliver excellent value at elevated pricetags.  I’m probably a bit jaded now, having tasted even some wines (especially Mosel Rieslings) that would have been considered pedestrian (and priced accordingly) in their time but have aged beautifully, and also experienced overblown wines with big price tags that I thought didn’t stand a chance of aging gracefully. But there’s a bright side to that polished, jaded exterior – I like to think it allows me to judge more acutely if a wine is worth it’s high price tag.

As with all products, we should never forget that the main driver for a wine’s price is what we (collectively, as consumers) are willing to pay for it!

How about you? What’s the most expensive wine you’ve ever tried? And was it  worth it?

Cheers!

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    Comments

  • @GrapeConviction


    The most expensive wine I've tried was Concha y Toro's Carmin de Peumo Carmenere (~$120), purchased by a generous friend of mine for us to drink, and me to write about. It was wonderful: complex, powerful, balanced and all that good stuff – probably the nicest wine I've ever had, honestly.

    It was therefore also more delicious than the Terrunyo Carmenere (CyT's second priciest Carm, at ~$40). But in the end, we didn't feel it was better ENOUGH to justify the 3x difference in price.

    Now excuse me, I have to go buy a bunch of expensive Champagne…

    • 1WineDude


      @GrapeConviction – Wow, gotta admit that I did NOT expect a Carmenere to kick this discussion off! I spent two weeks touring S. American wine producers and never once encountered a Carm that pricey. Thanks!

  • Larry Leichtman


    The new Mondavi Continuum at $150 a bottle is the most expensive recent. Went to a Christie's auction and tasted many first growths from most of the 20th century and I have no idea how much they were worth but I expect a lot. Had a Krug that was from 1982 that was amazing and I'm sure worth more than a 1000 per bottle.

    • 1WineDude


      Thanks, Larry. I can attest to the Continuum being awesome. As for the 82 Krug, will need to take your word for it! :)

  • Rogersworthe


    It just occurred to me that the most I have actually personally spent on a single bottle of wine is $39.99, and that was for a 2009 Taille Pieds 1er Cru that I haven't even drank yet. To be honest, based on my income level currently and how I read and see about blind taste tests where a $25 bottle of Bordeaux gets ranked up there with the 1st Growths, I get antsy spending more than $40 on a single bottle when in the back of my mind I could buy 2-3 kickass bottles of some unheard of Haut-Medoc Chateau or Beaujolais or Bourgogne Passetoutgrain (or one of each) with that same amount, and probably enjoy them just as much.

    At a Distributor expo I did try Hundred Acre Ark Vineyard 2007 (an overinflated 100 pts from Parker), and while I thought it was very good, I would never ever, ever, ever pay $240+ a bottle for it.

    I love this post. Wine enjoyment vs. Price is such an interesting topic to me.

    • 1WineDude


      Thanks, Rogersworthe – nice shout out to Haut-Medoc and Beaujolais there.

  • Matt Powell


    Hey Joe – 1958 Tokaji Aszu 5 puttonyos. The golden color had long faded to a dark amber; still had some life to it – thank you sugar! … ~$200 bones. – Matt / Draconis

    • 1WineDude


      Matt – a jealous rage is rising in me right now… ;-)

  • Adam Bekhor


    Joe….love your blog! The most expensive wine I have ever tasted was an 82 Lafite. Before you get crazy…no it wasn't mine, but yes I had more than one glass. I was invited to a dinner with a bunch of collectors (not sure how I made the cut) where they served an 89 Haut Brion white, an 82 Leoville Barton, an 82 Vega Scilia, an 81 Petrus and….wait for it….a 90 D'Yquem. Talk about blowing your load in one place. So to place this event in context…I'm almost 40 a massive wine event like this has only happened once in my life. I figure I'm am going to need to wait another 40 years for the stars to align again and get a chance to taste wines like this again.

    • 1WineDude


      Thanks, Adam! I am almost 40 as well, so when we are both 80 can you invite me to this next tasting please. :-)

      • Adam Bekhor


        It's a deal. You ever get up to Toronto let me know. Love to have a good bottle with you.

        • 1WineDude


          Adam – awesome, and we have 4 decades to figure it out! :)

  • @stevepaulo


    The most expensive bottles in my wine fridge are a pair of Marita's Vineyard Special Private Reserve Napa Valley cabs ($150/ea), and they are worth it.

    The most expensive wine I've ever had the pleasure of trying was the 2003 Chateau d'Yquem Sauternes (http://notesfromthecellar.com/2010/07/what-angels-drink/) … at $200 per 375ml, it's a $400 per bottle-equivalent price, and worth every single penny. I just don't have the kind of coin to spend on it.

    Luckily, I have some very good, and very generous, friends.

    • 1WineDude


      Nice, Steve! I need to meet these friends…

  • John Valenti


    I think e most I paid (retail) was $225 s bottle (when I finally cracked the Scarecrow list), though I'm not sure if that counts, since I havent actually drank any of it yet. At the restaurant end of things, I think the biggest non-expense account purchase ton date was a bottle of Spottswoode while at Del Monico in Vegas, or a Pride Reserve Cab whilebat Cole's Chop House in Napa. Both seemed eminently worth the splurge at the time.

    • 1WineDude


      Thanks, John! I’ll let you know about the Scarecrow after the next Premiere Napa Valley in Feb…

  • @anthonybest


    2005 Paul Hobbs Beckenstoffer to Kalon… $350 (restaurant price). It was awesome… worth $350 probably but it was my birthday. I still remember this as my favorite wine to date. I have a magnum of 81 Beringer Private Reserve that will be opened shortly. Hoping it will top the list.

    • 1WineDude


      Anthony – that’s one pricey b-day gift!

  • Matthew Esser


    Dude,
    The most expensive bottle I ever tasted was a bottle of '82 La Mission Haut Brion that I sold to a customer when I was at Dilworthtown. The gentleman paid $2400 for it and had me taste it. I must admit that it was no where near as ethereal as the '95 Jacques Prieur "Le Montrachet" that he bought for $600 and had me try the day prior. I, like you, have been fortunate to taste a lot of amazing wine, but that Prieur is definitely near the top (behind some '90 Krug, old d'Yqem, among others).

  • 1WineDude


    Thanks, Matt – damn, that's one big-spender customer!

    • Matthew Esser


      Dude,
      No kidding. I think that over the course of 3 days, he spent over $4500 on wine! Admittedly, I would have gladly traded my glass of the $2400 bottle for a taste of that Tokaji that was mentioned earlier. That said, I liked the tips I got!

      • 1WineDude


        Matt – what did he order for dinner? The grilled Sasquatch over heated moon rocks with a side of endangered-species-kabob??

        • Matthew Esser


          LMAO! I'm sure that if we had it, he would have! For me, the funniest part of that customer's three day visit was that during his dinner on the 3rd day, after he had spent over $4500 on wine alone, he could barely get the owner of the restaurant to pay his table a visit, because he was too busy with Uma Thurman who happened to show up on the same evening.

          • 1WineDude


            Matt – talk about crappy luck! But then, I'd opt for Uma over that guy as well…

            • Matthew Esser


              Joe, I didn't say that I blamed the owner for the choice.

              • 1WineDude


                Matt – Well put! :)

  • Dale Cruse


    Most expensive bottle I've ever tasted was a 1969 (my birth year) DRC La Tache that was a gift to me on my 40th birthday. Second most expensive was a 1996 Salon on my 42nd birthday. Both were gifts from the same person. That person also allowed me to taste 1990 DRC Grand Echezeaux (finest wine I've ever tasted, period) & 1972 Y'quem, among others.

    Also notable would be a 1999 Pol Roger Sir Winston Churchill Cuvee that was also a gift of sorts.

    I suppose the most expensive bottle I've ever purchased was a 2005 Corton Charlemagne for around $160.

    • 1WineDude


      Dale – damn, that person either really, really likes you, or is a testament to the generosity of wine geeks (or both!).

  • Carolyn Blakeslee


    We specialize in wines that cost less than $20, but in our tastings we've certainly had 2.5-ounce pours of more pricey wines. The best expensive wine I've ever had was a Mondavi "Opus One" but I didn't write down the vintage. Next time we tried it at our wine bar, it was a different vintage and not nearly as good. I might have paid $200 for the better bottle for a very special occasion, but tops on my list after the 'Opus One" is the 2005 Marquis de Riscal Rioja Reserva, which retails for around $19 but is available online for $12.95. YUM.

    • 1WineDude


      Carolyn – nothing wrong with great expensive wines that are not really that expensive! :)

  • Jim Silver


    I had the good fortune to taste the '52 and '53 vintages of the first growth Bordeaux, plus Ausone and Cheval Blanc on a very surprising late Sunday night in 1996. I was the sommelier for the Philadelphia Four Seasons, and who rolls in but Clive Coates and eight friends with a mixed case of these old clarets, and would I open them for him? Holy mackeral – I almost took that night off. What were they worth? I don't know, but they were all in top condition, and probably worth more than anything on the thread so far. The kicker at the end, a '67 Yquem (corked badly). When they ran out of wine, Clive asked me to blind taste him on a Burgundy from the cellar. He guessed it – vintage, vineyard and negociant. It was a '66 Charmes-Chambertin from Faiveley. I asked him, how did you guess that so easily? He replied, "who can't guess a Faiveley?" True story.

    • 1WineDude


      Jim – wow, talk about being in the right place at the right time! :)

      • Jim Silver


        You're from Philly, you know that the Fountain has hosted some amazing things. I've got a hundred stories like that…

        • 1WineDude


          Jim – yeah, but every one of those stories is probably bad-ass!

  • 1WineDude


    @winethropology – Yeah, after an out-of-left-field start with the Carmenere, we've gone Bord'x big-time today!

    I agree that the best expensive tastings are those funded by the generosity of others… ;-)

  • @fatcork


    Dude, your post is once again, awesome! Keep up the great content and I will keep reading. I probably love this post so much because you reference Champagne, my favorite beverage. I tell people about the value of Champagne all of the time. Yes, it can be expensive, but for $40-$50, you can drink some delicious stuff that is incredibly hard to make, and in the case of the Champagnes we import and retail, have all been aged in the bottle for a minimum of three years. So, it is truly more expensive to produce when compared to many wines in the same $40-$50 price point, and hence the value of Champagne!

    The most expensive (and best) wine that I have ever tasted is the 1996 Salon Champagne, $300 when I purchased it a few years ago. 100% Chardonnay from one of the best vineyards in Champagne, aged for 10 years in bottle, it delivered everything I want in Champagne, and it was worth all 300 bones.

    • 1WineDude


      @fatcork – Thanks! Finally, someone calls attention to the bubbly! :) OK, now we need someone to chime in on the Port and Sherry…

  • BCD


    I'm fortunate to be in the industry. I've been able to try wines I might never be able to afford. The Mondavi To Kalon Cabernet which is only available at the winery and goes for $250 is the most expensive wine I've tried.

    • 1WineDude


      BCD – nothing shabby about that wine. Cheers!

  • Benito


    Worst money ever spent on a wine, thus worst QPR ever: $35 for a cheap $5 Aussie wine in a hotel. I was stuck in a casino in the middle of nowhere in Indiana, I don't gamble, and I was bored and ordered room service. But to your question…

    – A $240 bottle of 45-year old Cognac. One of my best memories ever.

    – A kind of vertical (3 styles, 4 vintages) from a California boutique winery that shall not be named. It was a private and blind tasting, and at $200 a bottle, none of us were very impressed. Afterwards I helped the host pour $2400 of wine down the drain.

    – A private tasting of 17 various Barolos from 1967 to 1985. Too polite to ask prices, but the experience was priceless.

    – At a dinner party I hosted in 2004 I was given a magnum of 1983 Inglenook Cabernet Sauvignon. Not sure about the retail on that one but it was an amazing bottle that had never left the sealed wooden box, but had been kept in a climate controlled cellar all those years.

    • 1WineDude


      Thanks, Benito! Awesome to have a Cognac mentioned – how about some specifics on that guy?!? :)

      • Benito


        It was the 45 year old "Abel" from Pierre Ferrand. Truly amazing, and I've often described it as a kiss on the forehead from God Himself. Maybe it was just that amazing because I got to taste the 10, 20, 25, 35, leading up to it, but I'll never forget that golden brown pour of Cognac resting in a properly sized snifter. I invited my Dad to that tasting, and it was a drink made when he was just ten years old and living a dirt poor existence on a cotton farm in Missouri. We're all in better places now, but it was an all around magical tasting.

        My post on the tasting, if that's permissible: http://wine-by-benito.blogspot.com/2006/10/cognac

        • 1WineDude


          Benito – now *that* is what I call a wine descriptor! Cheers!

  • Adam Japko


    1907 Latour…in the middle of a Latour vertical including '45, '59, and '61, and 12 more vintages up to 1982. It was magical…but I didn't have to pay. Celebrated my 40th birthday compliments of a very, very good friend with more than $100K in wine. I will never forget the evening in my entire life. If you've got it to spare, it's a splurge worth pursuing in a life of wine enthusiasm.

    • 1WineDude


      Adam – damn, that entry might just take the cake for oldest AND priciest! Cheers.

  • S.P. Mulligan


    The most expensive wine I've ever had was ruined! I tried an '85 Dom Perignon with my in-laws. It was quite an experience, and by that I mean it had been STORED UPRIGHT FOR 10 YEARS and was completely oxidized, then the owners INSISTED IT WAS STILL GOOD because there one or two bubbles a glass. They made us drink it any way. This is the "the most expensive champagne in the world" they said. I'm not joking, it was a Persian thing.

    I wrote it up at: http://www.thefreewineblog.com

    • 1WineDude


      Stephen – WOW. I believe the term Mega-Bummer applies to that experience!

  • John R


    that I bought – (already mentioned) 1990 d'Yquem for $185, still aging in my cellar

    that I tasted – well, its priceless, except maybe at Christies – 1964 Heitz Martha's Vineyard Cab. UCKFING WOW! Can I say that again? UCKFING WOW! and on the same table as a 97 Screaming Eagle, 97 Harlan, 82 Mouton, 82 Pichon Lalande, 45 Talbot magnum (can you say the-yummiest-tasting-cow-manure ever?) 77 Dow's, and a few other gems. I was working a tasting bar at a Christmas party thrown by the owner of a very prominent sports franchise. He likes opening crazy wines so his guests can try them all. My "boss" and I looked at all the empties at the end of the night (4 btls each) and estimated 80-100K to replace them at auction.

    • 1WineDude


      John R. – holy uckfing wow indeed! :)

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