Leeftijd, schaarste en reputatie zijn bepalend voor de prijs van een wijn. Maar waar komen dan die grote prijsverschillen vandaan? De Italiaan Gaja maakte wijnen met als uitgangspunt: proberen wat een gek ervoor geeft. Chinezen hebben eerder krankzinnig prijzen betaald voor Franse wijnen. Imitatie-gedrag. Willen hebben wat de groten der aarde ook kopen. Al dat soort drijfveren spelen bij de prijsontwikkeling een rol. Wine-Searcher probeert erachter te komen hoe het met die prijsontwikkeling zit.
´There's more to what makes a wine expensive than just the materials that made the wine. Sure, a $100 wine is much more expensive to make than a $10 wine. But is there such a big gap between a $100 wine and a $100,000 wine? What makes the world's most expensive wines so expensive?
Outside of the cost of production, there are a number of things that send wine prices skyrocketing. Prestige and collectability are the big two, with things like age, scarcity, and good old-fashioned trendiness feeding this.
On top of this, wines that get very high prices also often have a novelty factor that is only tangentially connected to the wine itself, distorting the idea of what makes wines expensive. The idea of the world's most expensive wine is almost impossible to quantify, as so much of the time, it isn't the wine's fault that it's so expensive.
Prestige is the key intangible when it comes to wine prices. California's State Highway 29 runs through some of the most expensive viticultural land on the planet, passing some of the most famous and lucrative wine brands along the way. Appellations like Rutherford and Yountville add value to wines, but it's names like Screaming Eagle that really get juices flowing. To buy this wine directly from the winery, you need to get onto the waiting list – some 5000 people and several years long – in order to be able to buy a scant three bottles.
In fact, many of California's most famous and exclusive wineries, including Harlan Estate and Sine Qua Non, have these enormous waiting lists that limit distribution to just a lucky few. As a result, a lot of top Californian wines are bought and sold through auction houses, where getting record prices for wines is all in a day’s work.
"An auction does a good job of reinforcing certain wines as very high-end luxury products," said Charles Antin, a senior wine specialist and auctioneer at Zachy's Wine Auctions in New York. Auctions and prestige are inextricably woven together, to the point that they feed off each other – wines that attract high prices at auction gain a lot of prestige, and then go on to gain even higher prices. Some wines are made into legends by this process.
Outside of appellation and producer, Antin notes that fashion can often influence what is selling well, listing a sudden surge in prices for wines from cult Loire producer Clos Rougeard as an example: "We've sold certain bottles of Clos Rougeard for over $500 a bottle, which is atypical for a Loire Valley Cabernet Franc."
But at auction, it's provenance that really drives prices upward. "It's not unusual to see enormous prices for wines with perfect provenance," he said, listing recent sales of Vega Sicilia and Emidio Pepe wines as examples. Wine cellars from noted collectors can also see high prices.
Of course, wine lovers are not averse to a bit of novelty, and wines with unusual provenance can also find very high prices at auction. In 1998, a number of bottles of Heidsieck Champagne were salvaged from a shipwreck in the Baltic Sea, and collectors fell over themselves to get their hands on a bottle. In 1985, a bidder purchased a single bottle of Lafite Rothschild 1787 for £105,000 ($136,000), believing it to have once belonged to America's first wine enthusiast, Thomas Jefferson. This wine would have been an expensive one regardless, but the combination of vinous prestige and founding father drove the price right up.