While a wine’s age is not necessarily an indicator of the wine’s quality and there are multiple factors that make a wine age-worthy, the general rule of thumb is that the older the vintage, the finer the wine itself. It is not surprising then that some of the rarest wines or the most expensive wines in the world are also some of the oldest.
ChâteauMargaux 1787, Bordeaux, $225,000
The ChâteauMargaux 1787 is the most expensive bottle of wine that has never actually been sold and can no longer be purchased. It once belonged to the personal collection of the third American president Sir Thomas Jefferson. In 1989, the bottle was valued at $500,000 shortly before being knocked over by a server during a Margaux dinner at a Four Seasons Hotel. The current value of the wine is equal to the amount paid back then by the insurers for the spilled wine.
ChâteauLafite 1787, Bordeaux, $156,450
One of the world’s oldest wineries, Château Lafite Rothschild has over 400 years of winemaking history and a tradition of producing high-quality wines that sell at record-breaking prices. Their most expensive wine is a bottle of its 1787 vintage that was auctioned at Christie’s in 1985 for a whopping $156,450.
Like the ChâteauMargaux of the same vintage, the ChâteauLafite 1787 bottle is also believed to be from the cellar of Thomas Jefferson, who was a prolific wine collector. The bottle has no label but has the initials ‘ThJ’ etched on it, confirmed to be an 18th-century engraving. Jefferson served as America’s Minister to France between 1785 and 1789. Additionally, the wine’s age itself is reason enough for it to make it to lists of expensive wines in the world.
Massandra Sherry de la Frontera 1775, Republic of Crimea, $43,500
Popularly known as Massandra Sherry, this is one of the most expensive fortified wines in the world. A single bottle was sold in 2001 at a Sotheby’s auction for $43,500. It came from a collection of Massandra Winery, which is known for an extensive collection of valuable Russian and European vintage wines bearing the Imperial seal. The Massandra Sherry 1775 was the oldest of the European wines in this collection.
Republic of Crimea’s Massandra Winery was nationalised in 1922 after the Russian Revolution. It began producing its own sherry only in the 20th century, a bright golden-amber brew with delicate but distinctive flavours. But the 1775 sherry got its name from the Spanish town of Jeres de la Frontera, where sherry was produced back then only by local winemakers. It is said that in 2015, Russian President Vladimir Putin and former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi drank from a bottle of Massandra Sherry worth $90,000.
Rüdesheimer Apostelwein 1727, Bremen, $200,000
The Apostelwein is a cult object and the oldest wine in Germany. It was bottled in the 1960s and expertly sealed with wax capsules. The wine comes from a large cask in the famous 12 Apostles’ cellar beneath the Bremen Ratskeller or Town Hall. It was likely a Riesling made from Rüdesheim grapes of high quality.
The Apostelwein came from 12 barrels of wines of vintages 1683, 1717, and 1727, but these were reduced to one barrel due to evaporation. Now the wine is drawn from a mother cask, which is topped up regularly with a current Rüdesheimer wine, making the older bottlings from the 1970s or earlier more valuable. Today the most expensive bottle of the Apostelwein 2017 belongs to the Graycliff hotel in Nassau. It is one of the rarest wines in the world and is valued at $200,000.
Tokaji from the Royal Saxon Cellars 1650-1690, Dresden, unknown
Augustus II the Strong, one of the most noted monarchs of the European Baroque age, had a favourite wine cellar called the Tokajerkeller and regularly bought Tokaji wines to keep it well-stocked. The Tokay wine continued to play a significant role in the Saxon Court over the next two centuries.
The bottle in question is believed to be the oldest authentic intact Tokaji that was sold for an undisclosed amount in a 1927 Dresden auction along with 61 other bottles of Tokaji from the old Saxon cellar. The bottles were believed to have made the journey to Dresden’s Royal Saxon cellar after the death of Augustus III. Some of these bottles were produce of the vineyards of the Szirmay and Pottornyay families and were marked with the crossed swords of the Saxon Royal house.
Strasbourg Wine Barrel 1472, France, unknown
There’s a 600-year-old wine cellar under the Cave Historique des Hospices in Strasbourg in France, which is home to the oldest barrel of wine in the world. The barrel is labelled with a date of 1472, and although the wine inside has been tasted only thrice in its history, it is supposedly still drinkable.
The wine was tasted once in 1576 to celebrate the Strasbourg-Zurich alliance, and a second time in 1716 after the hospital was destroyed in a fire (the cellars remained intact). By 1944, the cellar too was falling apart, and the barrel had its final tasting shortly after Strasbourg was liberated by General Leclerc during World War II.
The cellar has now been restored, thanks to a 1994 renovation. The wine too was transferred to a new barrel in 2014 because the original barrel had started to leak. The new egg-shaped barrel was made by Xavier Gouraud and Jean-Marie Blanchard, two of France’s most experienced coopers.
Speyer Wine Bottle (Römerwein), 325-350 AD, Germany, unknown
The oldest bottle of wine in the world was excavated in 1867 from a tomb of a Roman nobleman and his wife near the city of Speyer in Germany. 16 bottles were found in a sarcophagus but only one was still intact with liquid inside. The dark and cloudy contents are no longer alcoholic, even though they may still be drinkable, according to researchers.
The brew has likely evolved from a blend of local grapes, herbs, and olive oil. The oil and wax seal succeeded in preserving the Speyer Wine, and the green-yellow glass bottle with dolphin-shaped handles is now displayed at the Historical Museum of the Palatinate in Speyer.