The most expensive wine ever sold directly from a winery will go on sale this week, from the venerable Australian vintner Penfolds. The limited edition release of the 2004 Penfolds Block 42 Cabernet Sauvignon is priced at $168,000 a bottle.
The wine’s distinctive price comes from its rarity. The wine was made from the oldest producing cabernet sauvignon vines in the world, transplanted from France to Australia in the 1830s.
Later planted at the Kalimna Vineyard in the Barossa Valley, northeast of Adelaide, the vines today provide unequaled juice, but little of it. Only 12 bottles of the 2004 vintage will be sold.
To add further cachet, Penfolds commissioned an ampoule of scientific grade glass to hold it from three Australian artists: Nick Mount, who designed and hand-blew the glass; silversmith Hendrik Forster, who prepared the precious metal detailing; and furniture craftsman Andrew Bartlett, made the bespoke Jarrah cabinet.
“Wine and art are intrinsically linked,” says Matt Lane, Penfolds’s U.S. representative, making the ideal buyer, says Lane, is “a big time, serious wine collector, of course, but also the art aficionado who wants to collect a unique sculpture.”
The other attribute of the ideal buyer — profoundly deep pockets — is indicated by the 12 bottles’ allocation for sale: three will go to Russia, London and Dubai, three to the rest of Asia, two to North America, and two to Australia. (One bottle will be donated to a charitable organization for auction, while the remaining one will be kept at Penfolds as a showpiece.)
“I can see a billionaire CEO buying the Penfolds ampoule,” says Lane. “Larry Ellison might want to drink it in celebration of buying 98 percent of Hawaii’s pineapple island, Lanai.”
This isn’t the first wine sold from the historic vines. In 2005, Penfolds sold a store of 500 cases with an estimated price of $225 for a bottle. At the time, Wine Spectator magazine critic Harvey Steinman described the Block 42 as “the best straight cabernet Australia has ever made,” citing its “gorgeous flavors, elegance and incredible length.”
The question is, at that price, is there a meal that would do the wine justice? Some wine-country gourmets like Stephen Rogers, chef at Press, in California’s Napa Valley, recommend meeting it head-on.
“With such a rich, intense flavor, you need a dish of comparable power,” says Rogers. “I would pair this wine with our grilled Brian Flannery 28 day dry-aged "Cowboy" Rib-eye, served with truffle butter and a stack of lightly-battered onion rings. “
But world-renowned chef Marcus Samuelsson, owner of Red Rooster in Manhattan and author of “Yes, Chef” offers his chicken and waffles with chicken liver mousse. “The wine is super high-end and it's nice to pair high and low. The sweet from the mousse and maple syrup offers a nice balance.” Alternatively, Samuelsson suggests the hot smoked salmon from the Rooster menu. It's a simple dish, velvety texture, tasty."
It’s more likely the buyers of the historic bottles will hang onto them as part of a larger oenophilic portfolio. Penfolds’s Matt Lane doesn’t recommend anyone start their own collection by splurging for the Block 42.
Instead, he suggests Buy a case of Penfolds Grange 2004, the vineyard’s iconic vintage for $10,000. “Hold it for 25- 30 years,” he says, “then either drink it up, or sell it for what could very well will be a massive return on investment.”