5 of the Most Expensive Wines in the World—That Aren't From Burgundy
Though the past year has not been kind to our regional economy, and social industries like hospitality have suffered greatly, a relatively strong market for fine wine has nonetheless persisted. In fact, although it took some real pain in March and April this year, tradeable fine wine is in the midst of a worldwide comeback, perhaps helped along by the strength of the 2019 Bordeaux vintage (even though the 2019 en primeur tasting week in Bordeaux itself was cancelled).
It should come as no surprise to anybody who’s spent time in Asian wine circles that virtually all the most expensive wines in our market are from Burgundy, with marquee names like DRC’s Romanée-Conti, Leroy’s and Roumier’s Musigny’s and Jayer Cros Parantoux topping the list.
These highly desirable Grand Crus (and Premier Cru, in the case of Cros Parantoux) are unfortunately also among the most widely counterfeited. Any newcomer wanting to take a punt on these bottles had best turn to a highly reputable merchant, buy on release if possible (challenging as they are tightly allocated), and probably ask for a paper trail. Cros Parantoux, the last vintage of which was made in 2001 (Jayer passed in 2006) is especially tricky in this regard. The risk of being duped seems, though, seems to have done little to dampen the enthusiasm for these top Burgs.
It’s thus somewhat unexpected that Burgundy as an investment category has not performed especially well over the past year. Arguably it’s so absurdly expensive at this point that it has less room to grow, although I’ve heard that argument before (and the 5-year performance of Liv-Ex’s Burgundy 150 still trounces all the other indices with 76.99% growth vs. 30.56% for Bordeaux Legends).
Meanwhile, the only Liv-Ex indices that have seen growth over the past year are the Italy 100 and Champagne 50, though the latter has seen the weakest month-on-month growth of the various indices (it seems people just aren’t feeling especially bubbly of late). The Rest of the World 60 has likewise seen a bit of a bump in the past month and so we thought it might be worth taking a quick look at the “best of the rest,” i.e. the most expensive wines outside Burgundy. In a testament to the comparative affordability of both Italy and Champagne, neither of them makes the Top 5.
1/5 Egon Müller Scharzhofberger Riesling Trockenbeerenauslese, Mosel, Germany
At number 4, this stands as the lone white in the top five of Wine-Searcher’s Global 50 Most Expensive list. It has only been available on release through the annual VDP auction at Trier and only 150 half-bottles are produced annually.
Trockenbeerenauslese, a style made exclusively from botrytis-infected berries, is incredibly laborious to produce and the natural conditions required are rare. Add to this the fact that some of the riesling in Müller’s portion of the legendary Scharzhofberg vineyard are own-rooted vines from the 19th Century and you can understand why this is so coveted.
2/5 W & J Graham's 'Ne Oublie' Colheita Port 1882, Portugal
A single release in 2014 of this 100+ year-old, single vintage tawny (Colheita) Port was released in 656 hand-made crystal decanters. The two remaining barrels of this wine remain in the hands of younger members of the Symington family (whose family motto “Ne Oublie” marks the bottling) to release when they are ready.
Tawny, the oxidative style of Port, has a longevity rivalled only by fellow Portuguese fortified wine Madeira (compared to which it’s normally richer and less acidic) and will probably outlast us all.
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3/5 Screaming Eagle Sauvignon Blanc
You have to go all the way to number 14 on Wine-Searcher’s list to get to a wine from outside of Europe: Screaming Eagle Sauvignon Blanc, which is almost double the price of the Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon.
This slightly absurd situation (Napa, though it produces some lovely sauvignon blanc, is much more famous for cabernet sauvignon) has arisen from the fact that the production of sauvignon blanc was reduced to one barrel in 2011 and it is only available to long-standing customers on condition that they don’t re-sell it. This of course only augments its desirability among collectors.
4/5 J.S. Terrantez Madeira
Shrouded in mystery, the J.S. bottles appeared in a 2017 Christie’s Finest and Rarest sale. Allegedly discovered and then rebottled in 2015 by the almost equally mysterious O.P. brothers of São Vicente, who decanted the wines into demi-johns, restored the original bottles and then recorked them, these wines are thought to come from the early 1800s.
Distinguished by the red stencilled ink used to label the bottles, these are strictly for the die-hard collector rather than the hedonist; notable Port and Madeira expert Richard Mayson described the 1800 bottle as “fresh and pure in style, clean delicate and very beautiful on the finish but without much concentration” in his notes from the 2017 pre-sale tasting.
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5/5 Joh. Jos. Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Trockenbeerenauslese
The crown jewel of the 20-hectare Prüm estate, the steep and slatey Wehlener Sonnenuhr (meaning “sundial” for the 1842 time-telling device in the vineyard that stands as testament to this south-facing site’s ability to capture sunlight at high northern latitudes) produces everything from the light and delicate Kabinett to the intensely concentrated TBA.
The ardent traditionalism of the proprietors (Manfred and his daughter Katharina) has made the estate especially beloved among the select group of collectors who thrill to the exquisite delicacy of sweet Mosel rieslings.
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