A bottle of Penfolds 1951 Bin 1 Grange set a record for a single bottle of Australian wine when it fetched A$103,000 ($110,000) at Langton’s Fine Wine Auctions in Sydney in early July. Nineteen fifty-one was the first vintage of Grange, made in experimental quantities (around 1230 bottles) and never released commercially. The Penfolds board of directors was unconvinced by this rather beefy wine and the chairman ordered production of Grange to cease.
The now-legendary winemaker Max Schubert had other ideas. Existing bottles were hidden in Penfolds’ cellars and production continued. A few years later, the board retasted the wine and gave it the thumbs-up. Schubert was promoted to national production manager.
Is a single bottle of Grange worth such a large sum? It is to collectors who have an almost complete set of Grange but are missing the 1951. Last December, Langton’s sold a set from 1951 to 2015 for more than A$372,000 ($397,500). To put that price in perspective, the world’s most expensive wine, DRC 1945 Romanée-Conti, last sold for US$558,000 ($850,000). The 1945 vintage is legendary in France. Another bottle of the same wine fetched US$496,000 ($755,500) at the same auction.
Two days before the hammer went down on the Penfolds 1951 Bin 1 Grange, Langton’s set another record when it sold 246 bottles of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti wines for A$850,000 (NZ$909,000). The auction house claimed it was “the largest successful sale of this ethereal wine from Burgundy in one parcel”. The wine was from the cellar of Australian wine critic and author James Halliday. I asked him how it felt to part with such treasured bottles. Was it an emotional wrench?
“I’ve sold the bottles but not the memories,” was his curt reply.
James attached the menu for a dinner in 1990 celebrating the 60th birthday of the wine legend Len Evans and commented, “I wonder how many millions of dollars’ worth were drunk that night.” It was indeed a trump card. “You think you’ve been to an extravagant dinner … take a look at this …”
The diners that night started with a jeroboam (three litres) of Bollinger 1969 Rare RD and Krug 1929. That was followed by a bottle of 1850 Duke of Wellington’s Sherry served with “broth with fungi”. With the first course, crayfish with oyster sauce, they sipped their way thorough five bottles of DRC Le Montrachet, the world’s most expensive chardonnay, from the ’86, ‘84, ’82, ’76, and ’69 vintages. Three courses followed, each paired with five bottles of DRC Romanée-Conti from the eighties, seventies and sixties.
Two more DRC Romanée-Conti (1960 and 1952) were served with Jindi Supreme cheese, together with Yalumba Barossa Valley Claret 1919, Victoria Ferruginous Fruity Burgundy c1890 and Hunter Valley Dry Red 1855.
With steamed pudding they enjoyed the ’83, ’76, ’75, ’70, ’67, and ’22 vintages of the world’s most expensive sweet wine, Château d’Yquem.
Muscatel and nuts partnered three Australian wines from the 1930 vintage and a 1930 Hungarian Tokay Aszú 5 Puttonyos.
Finally, Club Cognac – Rémy Martin Louis XIII.
I could value only the French wines (excluding champagne), and these totalled A$456,222 ($488,000). Not millions, but a tidy sum, nonetheless. The equivalent of 40 bottles was consumed by just 15 wine enthusiasts. I assume there were leftovers.
Bob's Top Picks
Investment Wine of the Week
Craggy Range 2018 Le Sol, $150
The release price of this collectible red has increased by more than 50 percent in the past decade. Add a premium to cover growing scarcity and improved quality and it becomes a viable investment for up to 30 years, possibly more, if stored under temperature-controlled conditions. I plan to taste the wine for the first time in a few weeks but have enough confidence in Craggy Range’s winemaking skills and the quality of the 2018 vintage to recommend this star syrah.
Felton Road 2019 Chardonnay, Central Otago $43
Taut, vibrant chardonnay with saline/oyster shell, floral/white flowers, citrus/lemon and ginger plus a suggestion of white peach. A hint of alcohol sweetness is perfectly balanced by crisp acidity to give a gently mouth-watering finish. Can be appreciated now but should develop well with bottle age.
Villa Maria 2018 Cellar Selection Merlot, Hawke’s Bay $17.99
This is the most ridiculously under-priced red I have come across in a long time. Succulent and seductively smooth with masses of ripe plum, blackberry cassis and fresh herb flavours. Shop around to find the best price – The Good Wine Co. has it for $14.99. Great winter drinking.
You can read more from Bob at www.therealreview.com