NEW YORK (CNN.com) — From a box of Franzia to a bottle of 1961 Chateau Petrus, there are few drinks with such a wide range of quality and cost as wine.
As wine has grown more popular, more and more producers are getting into the market with inexpensive offerings designed to be consumed immediately, pushing overall prices down steadily.
But at the same time, demand has soared for premium wines, which are grown in limited quantity and released in moderation — resulting in record breaking prices.
This Sunday, an Imperial of a 1961 vintage of Château Petrus (which is the equivalent of eight regular bottles) is expected to sell for $150,000 at an auction at the Columbia Yacht Club in Chicago. That would make it one of the most expensive bottles of wine ever sold at auction.
(For the record, the most expensive bottle sold to date was a 1945 Château Mouton-Rothschild that fetched $310,700 at Sotheby’s in February of this year, according to Vinfolio.)
The Château Petrus is part of a large collection of bottles of Bordeaux that also includes a Jeroboam (equivalent to six regular bottles) of 1945 Château Mouton-Rothschild, and Magnums (equivalent to two regular bottles) of 1921, 1947 and 1961 Château Petrus; 1945 and 1982 Château Mouton-Rothschild; and 1961 Château Latour-A-Pomerol.
How to win at a wine auction
“There are really two kinds of wine now, one is for drinking, and the other is for collecting. Like rare stamps, collectible wines can take on inexplicably high price levels,” said Princeton University economics professor Orley Ashenfelter who publishes a wine newsletter called Liquid Assets.
“I drink my wine and use my postage stamps to mail letters, and I continue to marvel at those who don’t.”
Collectors on the other hand, may want to make a bottle of this caliber the showpiece of a high-end wine cellar without ever intending to drink it. Rather they would hope to resell it in the future, hopefully for a profit, Ashenfelter said.
Vying for a vineyard
The price of a good bottle of wine is largely based on the cost of production, according to Natalie MacLean, editor of a wine newsletter and author of Red, White and Drunk All Over: A Wine-Soaked Journey from Grape to Glass.
Factors from the quality of the vineyard property and its orientation (an eastern exposure provides more gentle sunlight) to the type of barrel (oak or otherwise) and length of the cork, all contribute to the price a good bottle can command.
But, “after a certain point the pricing becomes irrational,” said MacLean. The value of luxury wines is based more on factors such as prestige, rarity and reviews.
Of the high-status wines on the market, the Château Petrus is considered among the best. That’s because it’s from the prestigious right bank of the Gironde river in the Bordeaux region of France.
In addition, large bottles, like an Imperial, are rare and can command a significant resale premium over standard bottle sizes, according to MacLean. Many also believe that wine in bigger bottles ages more slowly and therefore has a longer life.
And on top of that, 1961 is ranked among the best vintages for Bordeaux, and its peak drinking window is right now, making it a prime buy.
“There’s no saying where the price could go,” according to Edward Robert Brooks, managing director of Edward Roberts International auction house, which is managing the sale. “Blue chip collectibles in any category tend to fare well.”
In terms of an investment, “wine is one of the few collectibles you have to destroy to enjoy,” he added, and as the number of available collectible bottles diminishes over time, those remaining will be worth more.
MacLean nevertheless warns against buying a wine like this as an investment. “Flipping is always risky,” she said. Although, worst case scenario, “you could always drink your liquid assets.”