The price tag of the most expensive bottle of wine ever sold? A cool £424,000. That’s more than a pair of new Lamborghinis or a one-bed London flat.
The bottle in question was a precious 1945 vintage sold at a Sotheby’s auction in New York in 2018 for more than 17 times the original estimate of $32,000. As if that wasn’t enough, minutes later a bottle from the same winery and vintage clocked up £377,000.
The source of these legendary bottles is an iconic winery in Burgundy referred to affectionately by those in the know as ‘DRC’, shorthand for Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. Its wines typically range from a few thousand pounds up to six-figure numbers for exceptional older vintages.
Without a shadow of a doubt, DRC is the most exclusive winery on the planet, dominating any leaderboard of top wines both on price and investment performance.
You’d be forgiven for wondering exactly why these wines are so expensive. Scarcity is key here. DRC produces just 6,000-8,000 cases per year, a tiny number when you consider the thousands of collectors across the world vying to get their hands on them. All of its production is sold on a strict allocation basis, meaning that even those with bulging bank balances need the right connections to guarantee access.
For its most iconic wine, the La Romanée-Conti itself, just 450 cases are released on average each vintage. In 1945, the vintage of the record-breaking bottles, only 600 bottles were produced.
The most expensive wine ever sold was a bottle of La Romanée-Conti 1945 which went under the hammer for £424,000 in 2018.
Equally as important as scarcity is DRC’s reputation for quality. The domaine only produces Grand Cru wines, the highest vineyard classification in Burgundy. The most prized sites are La Tâche and nearby La Romanée-Conti, which are both so-called ‘monopoles’ fully owned by DRC. These two are regarded as the very best places in Burgundy to grow vines thanks to the excellent limestone and clay soils, gentle slopes and good exposure, which ensures the grapes get enough sunshine to reach optimum ripeness.
Connoisseurs have been fighting to get their hands on these wines right back to 1706 when Marquise de Pompadour, former mistress of Louis XIV, went head to head with Louis-François de Bourbon in a bidding war. The two fought viciously over what is today called the La Romanée-Conti vineyard, the jewel in the crown of DRC’s holdings. In the end, Louis-Francois prevailed, paying six times the value of other Burgundian Grand Cru vineyards at that time.
According to Burgundy specialist and Master of Wine Clive Coates the new owner was not keen on sharing his acquisition: “Not even his friends, who according to Beaumarchais, would go down on their knees in front of him and mockingly plead for an indulgence of one single bottle, would move him from his avarice.” It’s a familiar sentiment for collectors lucky enough to secure a few bottles of this prince among wines.
These three factors – scarcity, prestige and quality – explain why returns on DRC are so consistently mind-blowing. A great example is the 1978 La Romanée-Conti which has achieved a remarkable 38,744.92% growth – or £251,842 per case – since release.
Described as “the finest vintage of the decade” by Decanter’s Stephen Brook, this classic bottling has become a cult wine in recent years and is now extremely hard to find. For collectors fortunate enough to still hold mature bottlings, the potential rewards can be astronomical.
“More recently,” explains OenoFuture’s Head of Trade, Olivier Gasselin, “the smart money has been on DRC’s slightly lesser-known bottlings like Échezeaux, which has seen growth of more than 250% over the last decade. The more modest entry price on these wines makes them a very exciting long-term investment prospect.”
For more information about fine wine investment, please contact OenoFuture. See oenogroup.com