It's all very well complaining about the price of the world's most exclusive wines, but imagine spending $37,000 just on the bottle it came in.
When it comes to ascertaining which wines really are the world's most expensive, there is no better place to go – and we say this as simple fact rather than conceit – than Wine-Searcher. It is literally what we do: log and list wine prices from around the world. So why a travel publication should think it can horn in on our territory is hard to say, especially when they go and get it so obviously wrong.
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We had quite a few emails in the past 24 hours querying the veracity of a story that appeared in the travel section of CNN's website, entitled "How Hungary Produced the World's Most Expensive Wine". The story claimed that a special limited bottling of the Royal Tokaji Company's 2008 vintage Essencia was the world's most expensive wine to be put up for sale in 2019. The only problem is that it wasn't; it wasn't even close.
The specific bottling in question was produced in small quantities – just 20 magnums were released. The decanters come in a lacquered black box with a switch that illuminates the bottle and are hand-blown, meaning no two are the same. Which is lovely, but utterly unconnected to the actual wine inside the lovely decanter. The bottles do look great, but honestly they'd need to.
Now, let's get one thing clear here: the Royal Tokaji Company makes some exquisite wines and good luck to them for cashing in on the current demand for beautifully packaged drinks. This story is not about slighting the company, rather an illustration of how facts get lost when the mainstream media talks about wine.
Tokaji wines are not necessarily cheap anyway, relying on botryitized grapes for sweetness. Essencia wines tend to be much more expensive to produce; given the process, which involves collecting tiny amounts of supersweet juice from each bunch of grapes, you'd expect them to cost more than wines with lower sugar levels, but the price is eyebrow-raising all the same.
The Royal Tokaji Company Essencia has an average price across all vintages of $1233, based on a 750ml bottle. The 2008, has a per-bottle average price of $1193, meaning the wine inside each of the decanters is worth around $2400. Add on $600 for the magnum format and you're left with an empty bottle that will cost you $37,000. I'm glad that they're nice-looking bottles, but $37,000 surely makes these the most expensive empty bottles on earth.
However, regardless of the cost of the packaging – and even that is small beer when compared to, say, Macallan's 72-year-old release in the Lalique decanter, which has an average price that sits just shy of $125,000 – it's the claim that it is the most expensive wine on sale in 2019 that really doesn't stack up.
We'll disregard auctions, where prices can be arbitrary at best, and concentrate on the retail trade. Not only is the 2008 Royal Tokaji Essencia not the most expensive wine for sale, it isn't even the most expensive sweet wine on the market.
For example, a bottle of the 1835 vintage of Klein Constantia's Vin de Constance will set you back an average of $82,500. There are five vintages of Château d'Yquem that command a higher retail price, topped by the 1847, which weighs in with an average price of $107,116, enough for two-and-a-half bottles of the Essencia.
Château Lafite Rothschild has three vintages for sale with higher prices, the 1869, the 1888 and the 1868. Indeed, the 1869's average price of $243,477 would get you six bottles of Essencia (and change); interestingly, the wine is available from New York's IronGate Wine for a "mere" $100,000, although there's sales tax to add on, as well.
We don't have to go back to the 19th Century to find more expensive vintages – and we don't have to stay in France, either. The 1951 vintage of Penfold's Grange, Australia's most famous wine, will set you back $90,000 from Estate Wine Brokers. And let's not forget the other Penfold's wine that is still kicking around the retail space with an average price just north of $160,000.
(Personally, I'd be happy to use the $40K for a couple of bottles of arguably the world's greatest wine and pocket the $9000 or so change, although I'd be tempted to pick up a bottle of the Essencia just out of curiosity.)
CNN is a professional news outlet, there is no doubt about that, but sometimes you need something a little more specialist. If you want to know about street protests in Syria, CNN is just the job, but if you want to know about wine prices, we're really the only show in town.