If you ever wondered if price is some sort of corollary of quality in wine, I’m here to answer your question. The answer is yes, and no, sometimes, but not always, and maybe more rarely than you think!

OK, that was of no help, I know that. But the truth of the matter is there are many factors that affect the price of a wine. Chief among those factors is scarcity: nothing like unbridled demand coupled with a fixed, and hopefully limited, supply to drive a wine’s price into the stratosphere!

Other factors include the prices of comparable wines, competing wines from around the world, as well as a wine’s track record for quality and ageing. Counter-intuitively, one of the factors that contributes to a wine’s high price is the likelihood of that price increasing further in the future. Thus the wine’s ability to improve over time plays a big role in how expensive a wine gets.

Petrus

Petrus is about as famous a Bordeaux as you can find. It’s a relative newcomer to the ultra-premium world of hyper-expensive Bordeaux. Just 50 years ago, no one really cared much about Petrus, but then word spread. The news got out about this exceptional Merlot from Bordeaux’s Pomerol region and prices soared. How high? The 2006 vintage is selling for around $1,500 a bottle and up.

There is no substitute for Petrus, but La Vielle Cure from Fronsac, also in Bordeaux, is a very nice wine, affordable at under $30 a bottle and a fine example of a Merlot-rich (about 75%) Bordeaux blend.

Find out more.


Le Pin

I recently spoke of Le Pin, even more expensive than Petrus! This is primarily due to the low yields from this tiny vineyard. While Petrus might produce 4,000 cases a year, Le Pin’s production is closer to 500. This bottle of pure Merlot, also from Pomerol, vies Petrus for top pricing honors each year, squeaking out a win in 2003, besting Petrus’s $1,500 or so a bottle by several hundred dollars.

Find out more.


DRC

Domaine de la Romanée Conti is the most expensive wine producer in what tends to be the most expensive wine region in France -- heck, in all the world. Burgundy is rare, fickle and, when it’s good, exceptional. It’s no surprise that the wines of Burgundy would be included in this list. The inheritance laws have broken up vineyards into ever smaller plots; restricting supply as each producer vilifies and bottles their own small slice of the coveted crus.

In the case of DRC, supply is not exactly the problem. Now that is not to say that production is huge (it’s obviously not), but there is a fair amount of wine to go round. The most expensive red wine from the DRC line-up is the wine from the Romanée-Conti vineyard, where annual production hovers around 500 cases. A bottle of the 2006 will set you back some about $5,000, if you’re lucky! Looking to experience DRC on a budget? Good luck. The least expensive offering in 2006 is the Echezeau bottling, which is clocking in at close to $400 a bottle. A bargain!

Find out more.


White Burgundy

White Burgundy are the most highly esteemed, most expensive white wines on the planet, so of course they have to be included here. Funny thing though, you can probably guess whose is the most expensive. That’s right, DRC’s Montrachet tops the pack, coming at a cool $2,500 a bottle. But if you want a really exclusive bottle, try and find DRC’s Batard-Montrachet. You’ll have to be wily as a fox. DRC only produces a single barrel, about 80 cases, and keeps the wine for its own use. But if you can get a bottle it could be worth beaucoup bucks! There are no affordable substitutes, facsimiles, or approximations of DRC wines.

Find out more.


Guigal Côte Rôtie La Landonne

The Northern Rhône is home to a few super-expensive wines. Old vines difficult to work and self-imposed production limits, like the 1,000-case cap Guigal places on the three La-La wines (as they’re known), help to drive price up. This 100% Syrah from a single vineyard, called La Landonne (the other two La-Las are La Turque and La Mouline), not only has a track record spanning five decades, but the wines continue to pull collectors’ heart- and purse-strings. A relatively affordable $300 a bottle for the 2006 means La Landonne will continue to be a sought-after, affordable, ultra-premium wine. For other folks.

Find out more.


JL Chave Cuvée Cathelin

Like La Landonne, JL Chave’s Cuvée Catheline is a super cuvée of Syrah, in this case coming from the neighboring appellation of Hermitage. Here we have the nexus of all that is crucial for a wine to be hyper-expensive, and the Cuvée Cathelin is just barely that.

A track record? Well, not so much, since this has only been produced in six vintages since the first in 1990. But Chave is renowned as one of the finest producers of Syrah in all the world and arguably the single finest in Hermitage. Add to that the fact that Cuvée Cathelin is produced in tiny quantities -- maybe 2,500 bottles in an abundant year -- and far fewer in less generous vintages. The 2003, the last vintage released on to the market, is currently selling for about $2,000 a bottle.

Find out more.


Henri Bonneau

In the Southern Rhône, prices, while escalating, have generally remained at fairly modest levels in the grand scheme of things. Yes, the price of Châteauneuf has risen steeply, from about $20 a bottle to over $50 in many cases, but there is one producer whose wines have always been at the very top of the scale in the South, and that would be Henri Bonneau.

This is a small estate, and the production is split between a few wines. There are potentially four labels that can be used, each signifying a better level of quality than the one it follows. They are the Henri Bonneau, the Marie Beurrier, the Reserve des Célestins, and the ultra-rare Cuvée Speciale. A 2006 Reserve des Celestins will set you back a rather modest $225 a bottle, though if you search for a Cuvée Speciale you might track down a bottle of the 1998, the last vintage released, and feel lucky you found it for less than $400 a bottle!

Find out more.


Huet Cuvée Constance

Vouvray is perhaps the world’s most famous appellation for Chenin Blanc, and Domaine S. A. Huet is undoubtedly the greatest producer. If you’re looking for a track record for ageability, Huet has established that and even more. His Vouvray seem to be nearly indestructible, ageing effortlessly for decade after decade. Not only getting old, but getting better as well. With these sweet wines, that means they turn drier with age, revealing more depth and, well, complexity.

Knowing all that, I can only wonder in awe at what the winemaker had in mind creating the decadently sweet Cuvée Constance. This is sweet wine to the nth degree. It goes to 11. Yet people love it and, more importantly, know that as great as it may be today, it has a whole tapestry of detail to reveal in the due course of time. Being a sweet wine, Cuvée Constance can be found in convenient half-bottles as well as the more common 750s, and even magnums! No matter what format you find, expect to pay the equivalent of around $250 a bottle for this timeless nectar.

Find out more.


Trimbach Clos Ste. Hune VT

Coming from Alsace, Domaine Trimbach’s Clos Ste. Hune is another white wine that has managed to gather all the touchstones to become super-expensive and highly sought-after. This Riesling comes from a modest vineyard, the Clos Ste. Hune, and due to the low yield and late harvest only about 750 cases or so are produced each vintage.

Riesling is most commonly associated with Germany, and rightly so since it’s produced across the entire range of styles in Deutschland. But here in France, Alsace is where it’s at for Riesling, not surprising since Alsace basically borders Germany. Trimbach’s Clos St. Hune is the epitome of Alsacien Riesling. In fact, there are nine decades of proof; simple proof that Clos Ste. Hune is remarkable, complex, ageworthy, and expensive. The most recent vintage on the market will set you back about $150 per bottle. Cheap only among these giants.

Find out more.


Krug Clos du Mesnil

Our last wine is another white of sorts. Krug’s Clos du Mesnil is a top-of-the-line Champagne cuvée only outdone and out-priced by Krug’s Clos d’Ambonnay. Clos D’Ambonnay is a relative newcomer to the party, only having been made since 1995. So, we’ll have to focus on the Clos du Mesnil, which, at $1,000 a bottle for the latest release, the 1998, is less than half the price of the Clos d’Ambonnay!

This Blanc de Blanc, single-vineyard Champagne is highly sought-after, so the fact that only about 1,000 cases are produced each vintage, and not every year can be a vintage year in Champagne, has a significant effect on its pricing. Still, at even half the price it’s expensive, so the decades of track record, and fancy bottle, must also be at work with this very expensive bottle of Champagne!

Find out more.

To view the photos for this article, go to Most Expensive French Wines.