The Cost of Fine Wine Does Not Always Indicate Rarity

Our upcoming March 23-24 Wine Auction has shaped up to be the finest multi-vendor sale we have ever amassed. Nearly 100 lots of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti — including 10 from the Romanée-Conti –  and 20 from La Tache highlight a sale that is a roll call of the world’s finest wine. Every lot is a highlight.

If Bordeaux is more your speed, listed among the consignors are 280 lots of the Elite Eight of Bordeaux, including 26 of Petrus alone. Not to be outdone, the New World is here en masse with 20 lots of Screaming Eagle and more than 70 of Harlan Estate.

In a sale like this, the challenge is finding the lots that are highlights among highlights.

An easy way to narrow the field is by focusing on scarcity. A new auction buyer may well assume that the more expensive wines are the rarest, as it would be in the art world, where a lithograph will sell for far less than a singular painting.

However, wine works in a slightly different way. For example, a first growth Bordeaux like Lafite might be expensive, clocking in at around $3,000 a bottle, giving it the appearance of exclusivity. In reality, the Chateau produces about 200,000-250,000 of Lafite each year.

Burgundy is usually the source for the rarest wines in the world, as wine is classified based on the vineyard rather than the Chateau brand. The vineyards tend to be rather small, with many different growers owning a row of vines, rather than an entire vineyard.

Clos Vougeot, a Grand Cru, famously has more than 80 different owners, meaning that there could be 80 different bottlings of each vintage from one plot. The smaller vineyards tend to be the most coveted by collectors. One celebrated vineyard, Romanée-Conti in Vosne Romanee, is tiny, spanning only around four acres. Rarer still, this vineyard is owned in its entirety by one producer, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. (The vineyard name held such sway with the vineratti of pre-revolutionary France that the producer just made the business brand the name of the vineyard!)

Only 3,500 bottles are made each year, which is well below the global demand. Accordingly, prices exceed $10,000 for a single bottle and sometimes stray above $20,000. We have scores of DRC in this sale, as auctions are the best, and indeed often the only way, for buyers to build a cellar of this mythical wine. Yet even this is not the rarest wine in our sale.

You might be shocked to discover that the rarest of all the wines in our amazing sale doesn’t come from France, or even Europe. If you guessed California, you’d be right, but it doesn’t hail from the famous Napa and Sonoma regions.

Easily the most elusive wine in the upcoming auction is from a small cult producer based in the surfside town of Ventura, California. Manfred Krankel was a Los Angeles restaurateur and sommelier before he started his own urban winery, named Sine Qua Non. Dubbed by the definitive wine critic, Robert Parker, as “one of the most creative and multidimensional winemakers on Planet Earth,” Krankel has carved out a niche by doing everything against convention. Instead of Cabernet, he works with Rhone-style blends. He refuses to expand his production beyond the amount of wine he can personally make with his own hands, and every year he gives each new bottling a completely different name and label with his personal and controversial artwork. For example, Five Shooter Grenache from 2007 shows a woman’s bare backside with a suggestively slung ammo belt.

In 2001, Manfred made a special barrel of wine from a famous vineyard. Alban, consisting of 55 percent Grenache, 39 percent Syrah and 5 percent Mouvedre was auctioned at the annual Hospice du Rhone auction in Santa Barbara. A pair of wine-drinking friends in Los Angeles purchased it, and Manfred named and bottled the wine for this duo. These Sine Qua Non bottles became rarer and more elusive still and here we have a Double Magnum of this Cuvee, one of just three ever made. The Rudy Kurniawan story is one for another blog post, but the chance to own one of the best wines from California, in a Double Magnum with such scintillating provenance, has generated waves of interest from the global network of collectors.

Visit our wine department to view upcoming auctions and to browse our auction archives.

Written by: Amanda Crawford
Amanda Crawford is Director of Fine & Rare Wine for Heritage Auctions.

Posted by Amanda Crawford

Director of Fine & Rare Wine, Beverly Hills

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