How To Start A Wine & Spirits Collection?

What makes wine and spirits auction-worthy? Here we're breaking down how and why certain wines and liquors sell at world-renowned auction houses.

Dec 15, 2019By Kaylee Randall
How to start a wine collection


It’s well-known that wine and spirits have earned their place among connoisseurs. With expert sommeliers on staff at every trendy restaurant and specialized distilleries making only specific kinds of spirits, perhaps it makes sense that these boozy beverages would become collectors’ items.


Every top auction house in the world including Sotheby’s and Christie’s have auctions for wine and spirits. Here are 15 of the most expensive wines and spirits ever sold. So, what makes them valuable? What kinds of bottles sell for top dollar? And why? Make sure to


Here, we’re diving into valuable wine and spirits to understand what makes them auction-worthy.


Defining Wine and Spirits

We’ve all tried them with a nice steak or at your favorite pub, but do you really know what wine and spirits are? Before we dive into their value, let’s first explore what makes wine, wine and what makes spirits, spirits.


Wine is an alcoholic drink made from fermented grapes and people have been making wine for ages. Winemaking is an ancient practice dating back as early as 7000 BC in China. Other early wines have been traced back to Georgia from 6000 BC, Iran from 5000 BC, and Sicily from 4000 BC.

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Wine press from the 16th Century, photo by Chris Lake via Flickr
Wine press from the 16th Century, photo by Chris Lake via Flickr


While there are a variety of ways to categorize wine, for our purpose, wine comes in four major types: white, red, sparkling, and rose. You probably have a favorite and their creation depends on the types of grapes used as well as the production process.


On the other hand, a spirit is another term for liquor. They’re made by distilling (or removing the water from) sugars to concentrate the alcohol. They have the highest alcohol by volume (ABV) levels and types of spirits include vodka, gin, tequila, rum, and whiskey.


What Makes Wine and Spirits Valuable?

Blackwood's Diva Vodka, Shetland, Scotland
Blackwood’s Diva Vodka, Shetland, Scotland


When we talk about the value of a collector’s item, we’re usually talking about how expensive it is. And as you’ll see in Part 2 of this series on wine and spirits, these items can cost millions. So, what determines how valuable or expensive these bottles are?


First, the price of a bottle of alcohol is based on the actual production costs. How much did the raw materials cost? How much were the barrels and bottles? What was required to cover utilities and labor? Production costs also includes how much it was to market and distribute the product.


These production costs also usually equate the quality of the products used to make a certain wine or spirit. Higher quality grapes, for example, will yield a higher quality and tastier wine. Since high quality ingredients are usually more expensive, a better product will often cost more. In short, good taste often calls for a pricier beverage.


The next factor to affect the value of wine and spirits is age. As you’ll see in Part 2, many of the most expensive wines and spirits ever sold have aged for decades.


Macallan-Lalique 50 Year Old, sold for CHF 18,400 via Christie’s
Macallan-Lalique 50 Year Old, sold for CHF 18,400 via Christie’s


Next, is rarity. This is a simple equation of supply and demand. If something is in high-demand but with limited supply, you can expect a higher price. A rare bottle of champagne will cost more than your everyday Moet Chandon.


Additionally, the bottle that holds the beverage could be worth a lot and therefore, much of the cost could be associated with the bottle itself. For example, D’Amalfi Limencello Supreme comes with a gem-encrusted bottle including an 18-carat diamond with three single-cut 13-carat diamonds on the neck. This spirit costs $44 million and is the most expensive liquor on the market.


D'Amalfi Limoncello Supreme, designed by Stuart Hughes of Liverpool, U.K. and brought to fruition by Antica Distilleria Russo, Italy
D’Amalfi Limoncello Supreme, designed by Stuart Hughes of Liverpool, U.K. and brought to fruition by Antica Distilleria Russo, Italy


Finally, some wine and spirits are simply perceived as more expensive. Value is subjective after all and rare alcohol collectibles are just as susceptible to these arbitrary value judgments. For example, historical events associated with the bottle or limited editions of a certain spirit can contribute to its overall value.


What Kinds of Wine and Spirits Have a High Price Tag?

By and large, wine and spirit auctions are littered with rare and antique whiskeys. Different kinds of whiskey from scotch to bourbon commonly bring in the highest dollar values for single bottles.


Brandy is another spirit that often receives a notable price point. Specifically, cognac is a type of brandy that sells for extremely high prices and is known as the “liquor of the gods” and a symbol of French luxury.


Rémy Martin, Louis XIII, Black Pearl, sold for $55,125 via Christie’s
Rémy Martin, Louis XIII, Black Pearl, sold for $55,125 via Christie’s


Champagne is the classic sparkling wine from the Champagne region in France. In some cases, people may refer to any kind of sparking white wine as champagne but in Europe and elsewhere around the world, it is illegal to label a bottle as champagne unless it came from Champagne. This exclusivity surely has something to do with its expensive nature.


Similar to champagne, Bordeaux wine is another alcoholic beverage that goes for a lot of money. It can only be called a Bordeaux if it came from the Bordeaux region of France and this exclusivity, as well as the noteworthy taste of French wines, makes it a top-selling kind of wine.


Tequila is another expensive spirit that often makes the list of the most expensive ever sold. The famous Mexican drink is made from the blue agave plant found in the city of Tequila. In recent years, distilled liquor has become more dignified and can be seen with hefty price tags.


Pasión Azteca, Tequila
Pasión Azteca, Tequila


As you can see, some wine and spirits can bring in as much money for auction houses as fine art and rare coins. What in many cases is a way to let loose and enjoy yummy flavors from around the world is often also considered rare collector’s items.

Further reading on the Philosophy of Wine.

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By Kaylee RandallKaylee Randall is a contributing writer, originally from Florida. who is deeply interested and invested in the arts. She lives in Australia and writes about health, fitness, art, and entertainment while sharing her own stories of transition on her personal blog.