Discover the Most Expensive White Wine (and Where Its Grapes Are Grown)

Written by Aaron Webber
Published: September 23, 2023
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Buying wine, let alone tasting and appreciating wine, can be a complicated business. If you’re not an avid wine drinker or very involved in the wine world, it can be intimidating trying to understand the value and importance of different bottles of wine. Learning about the different vintages is a long and often arduous task. That’s why we’re here to help! So, how can you discover the most expensive white wine, and can you even taste it?

Unless you are extremely wealthy, or unbelievably well-connected, a taste of some of the most expensive wines is likely out of reach. But that doesn’t make the history behind the most expensive white wine any less interesting. The fact that a bottle of old grape juice can cost so much is often incomprehensible to many of us, yet it is fascinating nonetheless.

How To Know What a Bottle of Wine is Worth?

White wine pouring into glasses, closeup

White wine is its own specific type of wine. It is more than just a different color.

©Africa Studio/Shutterstock.com

This is the tricky question. When vineyards and wine companies put “new” bottles of wine up for sale, they will do so at a set price. However, the value that other people put on that vintage will quickly change the price of those bottles after they have all been purchased. This price change can be a result of the weather, natural events, historical events, or anything else that people believe might make the wine taste better or have more impact when presented to a dinner group.

For example, bottles that were produced during a certain time, survived a shipwreck, or were present at some significant event, will all have prices that reflect their value beyond their taste.

Only auctions can truly determine those prices. While the owner of a bottle might list the price of any vintage at only $8,000, for example, an avid wine collector might pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for that bottle, setting the new price. The price of a bottle set at the latest auction is what is used as its actual price. Even if it isn’t for sale.

How to Decide Most Expensive White Wine?

Vineyards of AOC Luberon mountains near Apt with old grapes trunks growing on red clay soil, white wine grape

White grapes used for white wine in Vaucluse, Provence, France

©barmalini/iStock via Getty Images

It is entirely possible, and even probable, that more expensive white wine might have been produced, bought, and consumed sometime in the past. However, without adequate records, we can’t list them here. In our research, we only included bottles of white wine from modern history.

A great example of the difficulty in finding the most expensive bottles of wine is the 1907 Heidsieck vintage. According to the story, a large shipment of these bottles was sent to the Russian Imperial Family in 1916. This was during the middle of World War I. The ship carrying around 3,500 bottles of white wine, Jönköping, was sailing off the coast of Finland on its way to the Russian Imperial Court when it was spotted by a German submarine, U22. The submarine intercepted the ship and allowed the crew and the cargo to be dumped overboard. It then sank the vessel. Jönköping lay undisturbed for almost 100 years.

Swedish divers discovered the ship and its cargo in 1997. The wine was surprisingly well-preserved because of the darkness below the waves, cool temperature, and water pressure. Those who have tasted it say it is just as sweet as other non-sunk comparisons, and foamed just as well as modern-day champagne. According to reports, a single bottle of 1907 Heidsieck can go for $275,000. Unfortunately, records of the actual auction list the bottles going for around $5,000. Any subsequent sales are hard to trace or verify. For that reason, it did not make the cut for our most expensive white wine. That honor goes to the 1811 Chateau d’Yquem.

The Most Expensive White Wine: 1811 Chateau d’Yquem

Typical vineyards near Chateau d Yquem, Sauternes, Bordeaux, Aquitaine, France

Vineyards near Chateau d’Yquem, Sauternes, Bordeaux, Aquitaine, France

©phbcz/iStock via Getty Images

The Guinness Book of World Records lists this vintage as the most expensive bottle of white wine. Christian Vanneque, owner of SIP Wine Bar in Bali, Indonesia, bought a bottle at auction in London, UK on January 18, 2011. This set the new price record.

There are many reasons why this particular vintage is so expensive. One of the most important being that 1811 was an exceptionally good harvest for grapes at the Chateau d’Yquem. It was so good, in fact, that many still consider this vintage to be the best white wine ever made! It is also a popular wine with history buffs since it was created during the Napoleonic Wars and survived to this day.

The 1811 Chateau d’Yquem was made from Semillon grapes and Sauvignon Blanc. The combination for this vintage is about 80% Semillon and 20% Sauvignon Blanc. This combination helped it survive for longer than usual. White wines typically don’t last as long as red wines, but the higher amounts of residual sugar in these bottles helped them age well and not spoil

1811 Chateau d’Yquem has a very sweet taste. Hints and undertones of pineapple, lime, saffron, and honey make this a unique sipping experience. It is a dark amber or bronze color, which has grown darker over time since its original pale gold color characteristic of most white wines.

Technically, Chateau d’Yquem is a sauternes wine, created by vineyards in the region of France of the same name. Other generic wines created outside the region might call themselves “sauterne” wine (omitting the ‘s’ at the end). So, be careful if you’re on the hunt for expensive wine!

Where Did The Grapes For 1811 Chateau d’Yquem Grow?

Grape vines at Château Margaux in the Bordeaux wine Médoc

Bordeaux, France, is one of the most famous and respected wine producing regions in the world.

©OceanProd/ via Getty Images

Château d’Yquem is a vineyard in the southwestern area of France in the graves portion of the Bordeaux region. A very famous and important area in wine culture! This area is one of the only places in the world where a fungus known as noble rot occurs regularly. Noble rot increases the flavor and sweetness of the grapes it infects. The moist night air promotes the growth of this fungus, while the hot, dry days will evaporate the moisture and prevent bad fungus from growing. Vineyards, including Chateau d’Yquem, intentionally allow Royal Rot to grow on their grapes, but the process is difficult.

It is the only wine to hold the prestigious title of Premier Cru Supérieur in the sweet wine category. This title is a sign of the quality and superiority of this wine over all others in the same category. The wines of Château d’Yquem are famous for their sweetness, complexity, concentration, and strong taste. Because of its high acidity and sweetness, a bottle can last for as long as a century or more if properly cared for. 

The property first began growing grapes for wine in 1711, and it quickly became a worldwide favorite. While visiting France, Thomas Jefferson said that it was the best white wine in France. He ordered 250 bottles just for himself. He ordered even more for George Washington.  

Growing grapes at Château d’Yquem

The vineyard has over 310 acres of grapes. The Château only uses about 250 at a single time. Château d’Yquem rotates production through the vineyard. The oldest parts are plowed and fallowed for a year before replanting. However, new grapes from the youngest vines are not good enough to hold the name Château d’Yquem. Young vines will grow for up to seven years before their grapes can be used in wine production.

From the remaining grapes, the Château produces around 65,000 bottles of wine every year. But if the quality of the grapes or the vintage start to show signs that the wine is of poor quality, then the entire vintage is deemed unworthy of the Château name and sold anonymously.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © phbcz/iStock via Getty Images


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About the Author

Aaron Webber is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering history, spirituality, geography, and culture. He has over 13 years of writing for global marketing firms, ad agencies, and executive ghostwriting. He graduated with a degree in economics from BYU and is a published, award-winning author of science fiction and alternate history. Aaron lives in Phoenix and is active in his community teaching breathwork, healing ceremonies, and activism. He shares his thoughts and work on his site, The Lost Explorers Club.

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