Business, wine appreciation, Wine Culture

Rich Tastes

How much would you pay for a bottle of #wine?

When I talk with people at my wine events, they’re always surprised to hear that a really good wine can easily fetch hundreds or thousands - per bottle! And that’s not the most expensive. Certain Bordeaux vintages can easily reach $5 – 10K a bottle. Yep, you read that right.

Here’s a clip from an advert I got in my email box. A retailer in London is offering me a half-case of 2005 Chateau Cheval Blanc for £2.600, or about $4,000: Roughly $666 a bottle.

There are records of wines being bought for hundreds of thousands, but the figures get a little foggy because in many cases, the wines are bought at annual wine auctions where the prices are driven up in the name of charity. Often, the purchases are for whole cases (12) and half-cases (6), so the price is not per bottle.

Chateau d'Yquem is a famous sweet wine from Sauternes, Bordeaux that has sold for $100K a bottle.

What makes a wine worth that much? Typically, the producer has a long history and track record of making some of the finest wines in the world. Featured in the advertisement shown above, Ch. Cheval Blanc has been making top-notch wines since 1832. Their 1947 vintage is considered one of the finest in the world, and they have consistently received high scores (some perfect, 100 points on a 100-point scale) over the decades.

For some wines, the name (just like Gucci, Chanel, Hermes, etc.) becomes synonymous with ultra-luxury and drives the demand, and price, up.

One of the most famous high-priced purchases for a single bottle of wine was when billionaire media mogul Malcom Forbes bought a bottle of 1787 Chateau Lafite in 1985 for about $157K. He originally thought the bottle belonged to Thomas Jefferson (The initials “Th.J.” were on the bottle). Turns out, it was a counterfeit. You can read all about it and other purchases like it in the book, The Billionaire’s Vinegar.

Buying wines of this level is a rich person's game. Often, the owners never even drink the wines – they simply hold them like a piece of property, hoping the provenance and the value increases. A popular strategy for collecting high-end wines is to drink half of the inventory and then sell the other half for a profit. This way, you’ve tasted some of the finest wines in the world – and still broke even on the deal.

The counterfeit bottle of Chateau Lafite (here, "Lafitte") bought by Malcom Forbes was part of a collection, four others were purchased by billionaire Bill Koch. Koch is suing the original seller for over half a million dollars.

Currently, the largest market for luxury wines is in China: Thanks to a galloping economy and many new millionaires, the Chinese are thirsty to see what the fuss is all about. Unfortunately, their luxury market also suffers from a rampant amount of fraud. In other words, those pricey bottles have a much higher chance of being fake, if bought or sold in China. The newly-rich certainly have the money, but not necessarily the palette, to know the difference and that is being taken full advantage of.

Do you think you’d be able to taste the difference between a $5 bottle and a $5K bottle? How much would you pay for an unforgettable wine experience?

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