Sunday, October 10, 2010

Top Ten World Famous Wines

For every wine lover there is a time, a place, and more importantly a wine that took your breathe away. A wine that you can still taste every time you close your eyes. A wine that we wish we could have as our house pour or "go-to" for daily consumption. But more likely this wine was a treat, a Blue Chip wine perhaps. You know what I'm talking about; the wines that command respect in any conversation. The wines we dream of or make fun of because we hate their sometimes undeserved popularity and price. Some of these famous wines have made a big splash, demanding people pay an obscene amount of money for them, while others are time honored traditions. With millions of SKU's on the wine retail shelf, there are ten known by almost all. Here is the list of the top ten world-famous wines.

1. Domaine de la Romanee-Conti
There are two wines in the world that every collector wants, or at least wants to try. Domaine de la Romanee-Conti, often called simply DRC, is one of them. DRC gets its name from its most famous vineyard, Romanee-Conti. Romanee-Conti is a 4.4 acre Grand Cru monopole (winery and land is owned by one person) in the Cote de Nuits sub-region of Burgundy, France. This small site only produces around 450 cases of wine each year, made exclusively from the Pinot Noir grape. The average age of the vines on this small site is over 50-years-old.

Domaine de la Romanee-Conti is THE wine Pinot Noir producers around the world compare themselves to. Oregon winemakers like Domaine Serene spend hundreds of thousands of dollars telling the world how, in a blind tasting, their wines bested those of DRC. But never has their juice bested the specific Romanee-Conti Grand Cru vineyards wines made by DRC. The Pinot Noir made by this producer from this site is the definition of world-class. Wines from this site are so prized that in 1996 eight bottles of the 1990 Romanee-Conti by DRC were sold for $224,900, or $28,112 a bottle, at Sotheby's in London. DRC's 2005 Romanee-Conti was released at around $4000 a bottle retail. Today if you tried to buy their 2005 at auction you would be paying between $8000-$16,000, depending on the condition. Forget investing in gold, the stock market, and your children's future. Invest in DRC!

2. Chateau Margaux
For fear of this top ten list being DRC and nine chateaux from the left bank of Bordeaux, I decided to select just one. While all of the first growths (Chateau Lafite-Rothschild, Chateau Mouton-Rothschild, Chateau Latour, Chateau Margaux, and Chateau Haut-Brion) are world-famous and more importantly world-class, Chateau Margaux stands slightly above the rest. I mentioned before that there are two wines almost every collector wants. DRC was one, Chateau Margaux is the other. Margaux was in the original Premier Cru classification of 1855 (along with Chateau Lafite, Chateau Latour, Chateau Haut-Brion), and today is still regarded as one of the best Bordeaux houses. The wines from Margaux are often described as an iron fist in a velvet glove.

Chateau Margaux holds the record for most expensive bottle ever broken. In 1989, a New York wine merchant named William Sokolin took a bottle of 1787 Chateau Margaux to a wine dinner at the Four Seasons New York. He brought the wine to the tasting in hopes to sell it for a client that was asking $500,000 for the bottle, a result of the fact that it bore Thomas Jefferson's initials. As he was getting ready to leave, a waiter carrying a coffee tray knocked the bottle over, breaking it. Fortunately, it was insured for $225,000. Still, nobody has since heard from the waiter. Today, a bottle of 2009 Chateau Margaux futures is going for about $1100 a pop.

3. Chateau Petrus
For this next top ten wine, we leave the Medoc on the left bank and jump across the Gironde estuary (often mistakingly called a river) to the Pomerol appellation near Saint Emillion on Bordeaux's right bank. Chateau Petrus is what one would call a micro-chateau (along with other iconic producers from the region including Le Pin and Chateau Ausone). But it's Petrus that is the fan favorite, made up entirely of Merlot (and a dash of Cabernet Franc in off vintages). They produce very limited quantities each year, only 2500 cases, making their wines very rare and therefore, very expensive. A 750 ml bottle (just over 25 US ounces) of 2009 Chateau Petrus futures (meaning the wine is being purchased before it is even released) is selling at auction for over $2500, depending on the house. That is nearly $100 an ounce!

Chateau Petrus' grapes come from a 28-acre vineyard inside of Pomerol. The winery is owned an operated by Christian Moeuix, who's claim to fame, outside of the fact his wines are arguably the most sought after in the world, is that he turned down the producers of the 2004 film Sideways when they requested to use his wine in the movie. Originally, they wanted the main character Miles Raymond's prized collector bottle to be a great vintage of Chateau Petrus. Since Moeuix turned them down, they selected a 1961 Chateau Cheval Blanc, no slouch itself. When asked about turning down the film Moeuix was quoted saying, "Quite a few film scripts cross my desk, and I vaguely recall Sideways asking for permission to use Petrus. I am afraid that at that time, I found the script unexciting and declined." Not that he needed the film to sell his wine. Getting your hands on a bottle of Petrus can often prove to be more difficult than breaking in to Fort Knox.

4. Chateau d'Yquem
Number four on our top ten list is Chateau d'Yquem, a sweet white wine producer from the southern Bordeaux sub-region of Sauternes. Chateau d'Yquem was the only winery given the status of Premier Cru Superieur (translated "Superior First Growth") in the 1855 Official Bordeaux Classification, the same classification that granted chateaux like Margaux first growth status. The wines of d'Yquem, made up of Semillion and Sauvignon Blanc grapes, are widely prized for their complexity, concentration and honey-like sweetness. In great vintages and when stored properly, the wines of d'Yquem can age for a century or more. In 1996 famed wine critic Robert Parker of the Wine Advocate gave a 100-point rating to a bottle of 1811 Chateau d'Yquem.

The grapes for this wine come from a 250-acre plot, prized for its susceptibility to Botrytis Cinerea, often called "the Noble Rot." Botrytis is a fungus that attacks the grapes resulting in an ultra-rich, ultra-concentrated, ultra-sweet grape. Because Botrytis doesn't happen everywhere, or even every year, the wines made from this fungus are rare and, in turn, expensive. At d'Yquem these infected grapes are picked berry by berry as workers select the perfect grapes with each pass through the vineyard. On average, only 65,000 bottles of Chateau d'Yquem are produced each year. Today the winery is owned by Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy, one of the largest business groups in France. A bottle of 2009 Chateau d'Yquem futures is selling for about $550 at auction.

5. Dom Perignon
Selecting the last French wine for my top ten took a lot of consideration. I could have gone with a wine from the Chateauneuf du Pape region in the Rhone and selected a producer like Clos du Pape or Chateau Beaucastel. Or I could have chosen a different Champagne, perhaps Louis Roederer's Cristal, Krug's Grand Cuvee, Tattinger's Comtes de Champagne, or Clicquot's La Grande Dame. But of all the Tetes du Cuvees (best wines of Champagne), I selected Dom Perignon by Moet & Hennessy (yes, the same wine group that owns the infamous Chateau d'Yquem). I chose Dom because I believe it's the ultimate symbol of celebration and class. While it may have been popularized by rap stars and celebrities, the wine is iconic, and displays the very essence of Champagne: glitz and glamor, yet refined elegance. Today the winery's total production is kept secret, but is definitely in the five figure range. A bottle from a great vintage like 1996 (an outstanding year) sells for between $150 and $400, depending on the condition.

Dom Perignon is named after the famous "blind", Benedictine monk. It turns out many of the stories surrounding Dom Perignon are questionable at best. The first was that he was not blind at all, but tasted blind, meaning he would taste his wines without knowing the source of the vineyard. Beyond not being blind he is quoted as saying, "Come quickly, I am drinking the stars!" Which turns out was a late 1800's print advertisement for the wine, not an actual quote. But the biggest misconception about Dom Perignon is that he is recorded by some, specifically Moet & Chandon for marketing purposes, as being the discoverer of how to make wine sparkle. He, in fact, was not the first to make sparkling wines. It was actually discovered by an Englishman in the mid 1600's.

In short, his story, while romantic and quasi-believable, is a long list of misconceptions and falsifications. The wine that bears his name, however, is some of the finest in the world. While a bit overpriced, Dom Perignon is the absolute definition of world-famous. Because no matter where you go in the world, when you order a bottle of Dom Perignon, people know you are looking to celebrate something marvelous, even if it's simply delicious Champagne.

6. Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia
Out of France and into Italy where plenty of world-famous wines are produced. I could have gone with a producer like Altesino and their award winning Brunello di Montalcino, or Antinori's Solaia, or anything by Gaja, or even Tenuta San Guido's second famous Super Tuscan, Ornellaia. But I chose Sassicaia, often called Sass, for its innovation and trend-setting fame. Sassicaia is considered the original "Super Tuscan," but unfortunately it doesn't get a cape.

The Super Tuscan saga begins in Bolgheri, Toscana (Tuscany). In 1948, winemaker Mario Incisa della Rochetta of the Antinori family set out to produce a world-class wine, Sassicaia, using Cabernet Sauvignon vines taken from the Bordeaux first growth, Chateau Lafite-Rothschild. Sassicaia's success gave birth to a new category of Italian wine where producers use Bordeaux varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot. Some even blend these Bordeaux varietals in with their Sangiovese, Chianti's principal grape variety.

Today Tenuta San Guido produces about 180,000 bottles of Sassicaia annually from their scattered plots, totaling 190 acres, in Bolgheri. The blend for this world-famous wine is 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Cabernet Franc. While the prices of these wines are not as extreme as those of France, if you wanted to pick up a 750ml bottle of 1998 Sass (stellar vintage) you would still be looking at dropping $180 or more a bottle.

7. Vega Sicilia Unico
For this next top "ten-er" we leave Italy, and head to Spain. Unico, Vega Sicilia's top-of-the-line wine, is a blend of Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, and sometimes Merlot. It's a reflection of the best years in Spain, and is aged for a minimum of ten years in wood, often longer. For years, Vega Sicilia was Spain's most expensive wine. It comes from the Ribera del Duero, which was recently upgraded to Denominacion de Origen Calificada (DOCa) in 2008, Spain's highest quality tier. Vega Sicilia was, in large part, responsible for this recent upgrade.

The winery was founded in 1864 by Eloy Lecanda, son of Toribio Lecanda - the man who purchased the land in 1848. The winery began receiving international attention in 1929 when their 1917 and 1918 Vega Sicilia wines were awarded medals at the World Fair in Barcelona. Today the winery is still considered one of Spain's finest. Their quality-conscious winemaking practices include plenty of wood and a low yield (grape to vine ratio) in the vineyard. Vega Sicilia as a whole only produces 25,000 cases annually from their 2500-acre estate (only about 600 acres are planted to vines). Each and every grape used in the production their wines is hand-selected by one of their 130 vineyard workers. The high cost of labor and low quantities results in quality-conscious wines that command a pretty penny. A bottle of Vega Sicilia's Unico is usually released for more than $400 a bottle. But don't fret, the wine will likely age for the better part of a century.

8. Taylor Fladgate Vargellas Vintage Port
A top ten list is rarely complete without a vintage port, and there are none better than the Vargellas by Taylor Fladgate. While Dow received a perfect 100-point rating from the Wine Spectator for their 2007 vintage port, it's producer Taylor Fladgate who consistently stands above the rest. And by no means was Taylor's 2007 vintage port a bust. Their '07 received a 97 from the Wine Spectator, a 95 from Robert Parker of the Wine Advocate, and a 95 from the Wine Enthusiast. The story of port is long and bitter, so I will make it short and sweet (pun intended).

Basically, a couple of Englishmen traveled to Portugal, looking for a new wine market. They stumbled across the Abbot of Lamego putting brandy in wine. This made the wines more stable for transportation and sweet, because the spirit killed the yeast leaving sugar behind. Meanwhile the British were feuding with the French, so they needed to get their fix elsewhere. Enter Portugal. The British invaded the port wine scene, and quickly monopolized its production, hence the reason most Port houses carry British names (Warres, Taylor Fladgate, Graham's, Croft, Cockburn's, Sandeman, etc).

The traditional method of stomping grapes for the production of port was done by foot in huge troughs, called legares. Today most have abandoned the practice, but not Taylor's. Since they were founded in 1692 they have honored the tradition. Because of labor-intensive practices like these, a bottle of their 2007 vintage port can be picked up at your local retailer or online for around $110. Their higher-end Quinta de Vargelles Vinha Velha (translated: old vines) is closer to $250 a bottle for the '07 vintage. Buy a bottle, and forget about it for a couple of decades.

9. Penfolds Grange
For number nine on the top ten list we leave classic Europe and head Down Under. In an ocean of mediocre to below-average wine being produced in Australia, one bottle stands above the rest, Penfolds Grange (formerly Grange Hermitage). This wine is the gold standard of Australian wine, and is the beacon of light in an otherwise abyss of furry creature wines. Penfolds is a very, very large producer in Australia, making enough wine to feed an army...a big one. They are owned by the larger Southcorp Wine Group, which also has such robot wine making gems as Lindemans, Wynns, and Rosemount Estate.

Penfolds' Grange is considered by many to be Australia's Cult Wine. It's made up primarily of Shiraz (Syrah), with a little Cabernet Sauvignon blended in. The wine is the brainchild of innovative winemaker Max Schubert (1915-1994). Shubert travel around Europe in 1950 learning the winemaking practices and overall culture of the European wine industry. Upon his return to Australia in 1951, he concocted the first vintage. While it was deemed "experimental," the 1951 vintage is often considered a collector's dream bottle. In 2004 one collector made his dream come true, paying nearly $50,000 US for one 750ml bottle of the '51 Grange. While Grange received poor reviews at first, it has since received over 50 gold medals, with the 1971 Grange winning first prize in Shiraz at the Wine Olympics in Paris.

In 1995, Wine Spectator deemed the 1990 Penfolds Grange the 'Red Wine of the Year'. Wine critic Hugh Johnson, co-writer of the esteemed World Atlas of Wine, called the Grange the only first growth of the Southern Hemisphere. Even Robert Parker, a self-proclaimed Bordeaux fanatic, wrote that the Penfolds Grange "has replaced Bordeaux's Petrus as the world's most exotic and concentrated wine." The Wine Spectator gave the 1998 vintage a 99 rating out of a possible 100. If you were to able to get your hands on a bottle of the 1998 at its release (only 9000 cases were made), you would have paid around $200. Today it sells at auctions for over $350, not a bad ROI.

10. Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon
Number ten with a bullet is Screaming Eagle's Cabernet Sauvignon. While many can argue which 'California Cult Wine' is the best, Screaming Eagle tends to be the most well-known. So here is a shout out to producers like Bryant Family, Caymus, Colgin Cellars, Dominus Estate, Grace Family, Harlan Estate, Kistler, Marcassin, Shafer, Sine Qua Non, and Sloan who all make ridiculously-priced, hard-to-find wines, usually, but not always, from Cabernet Sauvignon in Napa, California.

California cult wines took the wine market by storm. Producers with little to no experience set out to create a small production wine, usually under 600 cases, that could be called world-class. These wines are relatively new to the market, creating much of their fame in the last decade. Above all other producers in this category, Screaming Eagle tends to take the cake for the most culty of all the California cult wine producers. I swear, you have to wear the white sneakers and wind pants and drink the kool-aid to get a bottle.

Screaming Eagle is a 57-acre plot in Oakville, California. In 1986 real-estate agent Jean Phillips purchase the vineyard that was mostly planted to Cabernet Sauvignon. He hire consultant Richard Peterson, whose daughter Heidi Peterson-Barret later became the head winemaker, to help him produce his wines. The combination of low case production and unusually high ratings (Robert Parker gave the 1992 Screaming Eagle Cab a score of 99 points) resulted in the price skyrocketing.

Screaming Eagle has gone down in the history books as one of the most expensive bottles ever purchased, but the title deserves an astrisk. In 2008 Cisco Systems executive Charles Bailey purchase six magnums (equivalent to 12 bottles or 1 case) of the 1992 Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon at Auction Napa Valley for $80,000. But he got a good deal; the lot included a dinner at the winery with the winemakers. That's the equivalent of over $6500 a bottle. The release price for a bottle of Screaming Eagle is around $750, and some people have been on the list for years just waiting to pay that price. I'll tell you what, come over to my house, I'll hit you over the head, and won't charge you a thing. Trust me, it's a better deal.

And there you have it, the top ten world-famous wines. These ten wines are on the bucket list of wine novices and experts alike. Their rarity and price put them in a wine class that is often discussed, but rarely tasted. With these outrageous prices come counterfeit and deception, but when the great wines from great vintages are tasted, the world stops, if only for a minute.

These wines are a symbol of not only wine status, but world status. The greatest wine lists, retail shops, and auctions see these wines as a commodity, but many view them as a life choice. Selecting a case of DRC over paying for a years worth of your child's college perhaps? Whatever your feelings about these wines, one thing is certain, they are the most famous in the world.

As always thanks for reading. And if there is a wine you think should be on this top ten list feel free to send me an email, look me up on Facebook, or leave a comment here on the blog. Make sure to check us out at for wine and food innovation. Until next time.

Nicholas Barth
Certified Sommelier
Wine Director
Cru Wine Online


Anonymous said...

Indeed, the title is correct. All these 10 wines are world famous but we should mention that there are 2 categories to this list. The old and new world wines. They are not world famous for the same reasons. The old world ones are famous for decades if not centuries, well before their prices skyrocketed, but the new world ones are mainly famous because of their prices.
As for Dom Perignon, it is world famous for the wrong reasons. Over exposure and over production. What a shame...It used to be the ultimate celebration champagne. Now, it is barely drinkable !!

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry buddy what about all the others Italian wines? You may forgetting about Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino, Montepulciano Franciacorta and so forth.. Whoever wrote this article clearly don't like italians. Italy has the oldest vineyards in the world so please whoever you are bow down on your knees an ask to be forgiven. My god you mention 5 wines form France and Spain and Australia.. Its insulting and you've just shown that you ain't know nothing about wine. Beside I've been working for different vineyards around Australia and the majority of the owners are Italian..

Cru Wine Specialists said...

Anonymous (2),
I appreciate the feedback. And as you can see this is a list of the top 10, not top 20, 30, or 40. There was only so much room. This post was designed to highlight world-famous wines, not world-class. While I agree plenty of world-class Italian wines exist, this is designed to highlight the wines that are recognized world wide by everyone as a symbol of fame. World-famous is vastly different than world-class, Justin Beiber and Taylor Swift are famous, that does not mean they are the best in their class. Hence the reason Sass made it to the list and not Gaja, although Gaja was in the running, Marchesi di Gresy, or one of the other great producers in Piedmont and Tuscany.

Be advised, Franciacorta could not be further from world-famous. While I agree the wines are the greatest example of traditional method sparkling wine outside of Champagne in France, they are not world-famous by any degree.

In addition, all of these wines determine market prices by regularly commanding high prices at global auctions. Be advised, it would have been 90% French if I didn't put forth effort to showcase the many styles and regions available. I'd love to evaluate a list of your top ten world-famous wines, perhaps then I could tell you how you missed several important world-famous wines and put too much emphasis on Italians. Love Italian wines, don't get me wrong. But this top ten list of world-famous wines only had room for 1. Thanks for reading.

Top Ten by Cru Wine Online said...


Jinga said...

Thank you for this article. Within this article I had to find out about all those world famous wines. Thank you again.
And don't mind about those who does not really know the difference between world-famous and world-class.

Anonymous said...

this is a good list famous actualy must be lafite I think because it's the really most famous first growth of the 1855 I understand what you want to do is to choose wines from all alround the world.
Good job.

palepu ramyasree said...

gud work..

Herve Pennequin said...

Henri Jayer could have been number 1 or 2 on this list... Prices in auction go very high but i understand that most people do not know the name.

jack smith said...

Penfolds Grange collected wines in Australia is one of the well, and it's great to mature.Penfold grange

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Anonymous said...

Let's get something straight from the start- Latour is the quintessential expression of the Medoc, not Margaux. When it comes to Italy, Barolo must be the first port of call, forget the hype of the overrated Super-Tuscans. As for Penfolds Grange, it was a dime a dozen when I grew up in Australia and it must rank as the most overrated wine in History. If the criteria is fame alone, more people would be able to name Jacob's Creek, which isn't worth using as mouthwash, than most of the wines on your list.

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Julien Miquel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Julien Miquel said...

This is a pretty good list, it's hard to only chose 10 isn't it?
Although overall I think this list is pretty accurate containing all the super super famous wines on a global scale, with the top wines for many countries.
I'm not 100% about Taylor Fladgate Vargellas Vintage Port. Is this wine so famous? I'm surprised I'd never heard of it before. I'd thin Quinta do Noval Nacional to be more famous, but I might be mistaking!
I made a longer list, with some 100 of the most famous wines Julien Miquel
What do you think?

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