Wine sir? Best take out a mortgage

Fine wine merchants in London say they have had their best year ever, with single bottles on sale for more than the price of a flat. But what drives the trend? And more importantly, how do these most rarefied of elixirs taste?

BBC London attempts to track down the most expensive bottle of wine on sale in the city to find out.

Image caption Petrus - a wine so expensive Gordon Ramsay named a restaurant after it

From his cavernous, 300-year-old cellar in central London, Simon Staples exuded all the confidence of a 1980s stockbroker.

The sales director at wine merchant Berry Brothers and Rudd calls the last six months "the most astonishing time for the market I have ever seen".

He said: "People have always enjoyed fine wine. But as new markets emerge it has got stronger and stronger. We have never seen it this bullish."

With that bombastic statement began the quest to track down the most eye-wateringly expensive tipple of all.

Top lot at the auctioneer Christie's' next sale is the 1982 Petrus, a wine so prestigious Gordon Ramsay named a restaurant after it.

It is estimated to fetch £4,000 a bottle - just 16 months ago one sold for £1,530. But would the layperson even taste the difference?

"People say: 'Oh, it would be wasted on me'," says Christie's' head of fine wine David Elswood.

"This is an extreme case - you would recognise it is superior.

"But you might not realise it is something extraordinary."

'The gloves come off'

Mr Elswood continued: "Petrus '82 is generally recognised to be the best wine there is.

"But if you had it next door to a good Bordeaux costing £20 the differences are small. For £20 you can enjoy 99% of the quality range in wine. Above that the gloves come off."

The recession made an initial dent in the market. But investors then found wine far more profitable than sluggish stocks and shares and parked their money in grapes.

That combined with the emergence of a new, superwealthy market in the Far East to send prices surging.

Mr Elswood explained: "For 200 years London was the capital of the world's wine trade, the capital of appreciation.

Image caption Mr Elswood says Hong Kong has replaced London as world wine capital

"Never ask a Parisian what French wine is like - you already know their answer.

"But in the Far East, where people once never drank wine at all, a whole new market has emerged. Hong Kong is the new capital."

Petrus '82 also tops the bill at Bonhams auction house.

Anthony Barne, head of fine wine, said: "The hallmark is that it's powerful but not heavy. You get this intense flavour without being too hefty.

"It's very well balanced so you don't get a great thump at the beginning or the end.

"The few clients buying it for drinking are in China, Russia or Brazil."

But compared to wines on sale elsewhere the price tag is small beer.

Berry Brothers and Rudd offers a 1978 Richebourg Burgundy.

'Absurd amount'

The case price? £135,000, or a cool £11,250 per bottle.

"It seems an absurd amount of money," employee Joss Fowler admitted. "But it was made by one of the first legendary winemakers - you are paying for the kudos."

He continued: "The selling point is that you have a finite product. And the supply decreases still more at drinking point.

Image caption Not one to put on expenses - these six bottles cost more than the £65,738 salary of an MP

"Plus it will improve for 40 years - it's not a bar of gold sitting there doing nothing.

"The buyer may just store it for the pleasure of knowing it's in their cellar, even though that sounds silly.

"Or will they open a few bottles? An expensive dinner party."

But the Burgundy is a mere whippersnapper compared to the blueblooded aristocrat at the Antique Wine Company's cellar.

The merchant, based in Islington, north London, offers a war veteran for sale - the Napoleonic War, no less.

Managing director Stephen Williams said of his 1811 Chateau d'Yquem: "Drinking antique wine is about the sensation of nostalgia - it takes you on a journey.

"Think about what was going on in 1811. The aeroplane had not been invented. Neither had electricity.

"The world was a very different place - the grapes that went into this wine were picked by peasants, by hand."

Made by peasants - but with a price tag for a lord. At £75,000 the bottle would break the world record for a white wine, and it was easily the most expensive the BBC could track down.

'Empire at its peak'

For that price, Google reveals you could be the proud owner of a flat in Beckenham, south London and buy a Petrus '82 with the change.

Image caption The Chateau d'Yquem is worth more than bricks and mortar

Stephen Williams said: "Wines from the Napoleonic era are very valuable. This comes from when the Empire was at its peak.

"And Chateau d'Yquem probably has the greatest longevity of vintage wines."

But how would it taste?

Mr Williams said: "The oldest wine I have personally tasted was from 1865. That was a great vintage and it was a special moment.

"The sugar in the Chateau d'Yquem will probably have caramelised and I would hope there would still be some acidity. This bottle won't hang about."

This article considered wine offered for direct sale to the public where prices are intended to reflect a bottle's true worth.

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