Rare Necessities

Exceptional reds to be had—should the opportunity present itself…

When it comes to wine, there is rare, then there is unobtainium.

i have savored a fair amount of rare wines that have crossed my lips over the years. And I am privileged to be able to say I have had some of the rarest and finest among them, but there are some that I have not yet come close to. The following list of the most expensive, uncommon bottles on Earth belongs to an elite few, but the rest of us can still lust and hope for a chance to taste them.

A case (12 standard bottles) of this wine went for $144,000 at a Christie’s New York auction. It is the world’s greatest merlot, and the most famous example of this variety in the world. It is none other than 1961 Petrus. With an average production of around 3,000 cases made on a tiny estate in Pomerol, Bordeaux, for a thirsty world, Petrus is a wine that causes every wine lover to stop and take notice. It has been some years since I tasted this amazing wine: Take note that I use the word amazing in its true sense. It was a beguiling combination of black and fruit aromas, wet soil, sweet vanilla, cardamom, mocha, game, flowers, tea, cinnamon and plum; and that was just in the nose. The texture was pure velvet with waves of flavor and complexity.

I can still remember that flavor to this day.

If someone asked me what is the greatest sweet wine I have ever tasted, it would be Château d’Yquem, the only Premier Grand Cru Classe of Sauternes. My greatest experience with this wine was the 1967 vintage. Th is golden sweet elixir is the result of moldy grapes. Yes, grapes affected by “noble rot,” which changes the chemical composition of the wine and dehydrates it, concentrating the sugars and acids. Th is is godly wine made from rotten grapes. It is luxurious in every sense of the word. The 1967 was a hedonists’ paradise; like a dessert station in a three-star Michelin restaurant. Confiture, preserved fruits, cakes, puddings, caramels, toffees, meringues et al. But the rarest bottle is the 1811 Château d’Yquem, which sold for $123,000 by Antique Wine Company in London.


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Whether paired to a savory dish or sipped solo, these not-so standard rouges shine (photo by Viviana Singh).

Romanée-Conti is a single, 1.8-acre vineyard entirely owned by Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, and it is the apogee of Burgundy and pinot noir. It is a wine lovers’ dream to own and drink it. I have been blessed to drink it on more than a few occasions. My favorite so far is the 1978 Romanée-Conti. It is pure silk with a heavenly scent of wild cherry and strawberries, violets, baking spices, allspice, sandalwood, wet stone, underbrush and jasmine—a singular and beguiling expression of pinot noir. This is an unforgettable wine with such energy and sense of place, and this example was still fabulously youthful. Such quality and rarity are exemplified by a collector who paid $123,000 for a bottle of 1945 Romanée-Conti at a Christie’s Auction, one of only a few remaining bottles from of a total of 600 that were produced.

There are several bottles of red Bordeaux that reach otherworldly prices: 1865 Château Lafite-Rothschild ($111,625); a jeroboam (3 liters or four standard bottles) of 1945 Château Mouton-Rothschild ($114,614); 1787 Château Lafite-Rothschild purportedly previously owned by Thomas Jefferson; a bottle of 1869 Château Lafite-Rothschild which came directly from the château cellars ($232,692). But the cream of this limited crop is an imperial (6 liters of wine or eight standard bottles) of 1947 Château Cheval-Blanc. I can tell you that the legend of its richness and immortality is true. It is one of the most decadent and unique wines I have tasted. It speaks of blue and black fruit, cacao, spices, coffee grounds and a texture that is almost incomparable to any other Bordeaux, and that was out of a standard bottle. This treasure sold for $304,375 at Christie’s in November of 2010.

But the king of rarities comes from the U.S. Yes, indeed: The home of excess and rarity is none other than California: Napa Valley, to be specific. The rarest bottle is Screaming Eagle, a hyper-cult cabernet that has set the price bar higher than any other. I have tasted it only a handful of times, and at its best, it is truly one of the greatest cabernets in Napa Valley—and perhaps my most memorable.

A recent 2008 bottling was superb, brimming with super-ripe fruit, sweet notes of oak and vanilla, all at incredibly high levels. But what was so impressive was it was balanced, rich, textured and polished with loads of energy, like a brand-new Bugatti Veyron, in the mouth. Any vintage will cost a minimum of $1,000, but in 2000, an imperial of 1992 Screaming Eagle was sold for $500,000 at a charity auction in Napa Valley.

If any of these wines are in your cellar and you intend to drink them, you will need a Master Sommelier to help serve them. I am at your service with pleasure.

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