Wine lovers have reacted with shock, and perhaps some envy, after it was revealed that a customer at a Manchester restaurant was given a £4,500 bottle of wine – instead of the one they ordered.
Why is some wine so eye-wateringly expensive though – and would most people notice a huge difference from their normal bottle?
We spoke to wine experts Jilly Goolden and Joe Fattorini to find out.
So, would you taste the difference?
Fattorini, presenter of The Wine Show who goes by the nickname Obi Wine Kenobi, is certain the lucky customers at Hawksmoor would have known they had something special on their hands.
“I suspect they would have gone: ‘wow, that’s extraordinary!’,” he says. “It does taste different and it would taste fabulous so undoubtedly you would know.”
So for those of us who would struggle to justify spending quadruple figures on anything, let alone a single bottle of wine, how does this one – a Chateau le Pin Pomerol 2001- actually taste?
“It’s really, really good,” enthuses Fattorini. “I haven’t had the 2001, which is quite hard to get hold of. But it’s the epitome of their house style.
“It’s glossy, rich and voluptuous with lots of cherries and leaves your mouth coated with a glycerine feel. It’s exceptional.”
But Goolden disagrees – believing that quite simply, “you wouldn’t know if you were tasting wine worth £4,500”.
“It would be much better than a house red – but then almost anything is better than that”, the writer and television presenter said.
“The other thing to consider is that a 2001 wine is obviously 18 years old, so it would be very unlike a wine you would buy just when you’re out and about in a wine shop.
“It’s a very old wine. It would look different and would probably have lost quite a lot of fruit – those drinking it might even have been disappointed.”
How can it cost so much?
Le Pin has been described as among the most expensive wines in the world. But why is that?
“An enormous amount of the alleged value of the wine will be in the provenance and the pedigree and the rarity,” says Goolden. “The rarity alone doesn’t make it that expensive. But if it’s something very sought-after, then it pushes the price up.
“You have to take into account that restaurants hike the prices up hugely as well. It would not cost that much on a wine rack.
“I think to the average punter in the restaurant, the nuance of it would go over their head.”
Fattorini explains: “They only made 500 cases of it, on a one-acre vineyard, so there isn’t very much of it in the first place.
“Most big Bordeaux chateaux will turn out 100,000 cases. So the cost of making it is higher, if each vine only produces a few glasses rather than a few bottles.
“People want more the higher the price goes. It’s almost deliberately expensive – it makes it more attractive. It’s totally irrational, but it’s why people want it even more.”
He adds of the Le Pin 2001 wine: “It’s also very exotic. It’s a really good vintage for them especially. There’s an extraordinary mystique around Le Pin – there’s a premium.”
The presenter and writer says there’s a vast difference in taste between a £5 bottle of wine and a £20 bottle but that it isn’t quite as drastically different once the cost gets up into the hundreds of pounds.
If you had one bottle costing £500 and the other £2,500 while the pricier wine would be better, it wouldn’t be “hugely different”, he adds.
Who would – or could – buy it?
Goolden says these are “people on expense accounts, people who show off – there are a lot of them”, adding that her “whole career has been spent trying to prick the bubble of mystique surrounding wine.”
“It’s often people with company credit cards,” Fattorini agrees. “And they would spend that much because they enjoy doing it.”
He said celebrities will also spend quite a lot of money on wine – pointing out David Beckham posted pictures of wine he was drinking with wife Victoria on Instagram when he was celebrating his wedding anniversary last year. Those are thought to have cost in the hundreds rather than the thousands, however.
Fattorini says: “If you’re that wealthy, it’s the equivalent of spending £12.99 on a bottle for the average person.
“I don’t think it’s showing off. There is that certain group of people, the kind who get on the rich list. If you have that kind of money, you’re spending on it on something you love.”
He points out too that in the show Billions, a drama featuring a billionaire hedge fund manager played by Damian Lewis, bottles of Le Pin can be seen on tables as a prop.
“Whoever the customer was, they would have had a taste of that Billions kind of lifestyle,” he adds of the Hawksmoor diners.
The bottom line – is it worth it?
Asked if it’s worth it, Fattorini doesn’t hesitate.
“Yes,” he says without hesitation. “I do think so. I believe it absolutely can be, for people with that much money. You don’t know why someone would buy it. Often the reason is that it could be to celebrate an extraordinary event – a big business event, like closing a half-billion-pound deal, or celebrating the life of a much-loved relation.
“I can imagine why you would want to spend that much. It would be about the moment – not just the taste of maraschino cherry.”
Goolden says: “It’s arguable whether on taste, any wine is worth £4,500. But people who value the heritage and history and provenance might buy it – if they have money to burn.
“Bordeaux is a swanky wine, but doesn’t always deliver on taste. So it would be a show-off wine. I wouldn’t pay that much.”
While she wouldn’t shell out for such a bottle, would Goolden drink it herself?
“Personally I would be delighted if someone gave me a sip – but I would probably feel quite guilty afterwards,” she adds.
And would they have got a hangover?
Fattorini isn’t sure the lucky wine drinkers at Hawksmoor would have suffered hangovers just as weighty as the price tag of the wine.
He said some “very generous friends” opened some “very expensive” wine with him one night – and that he felt “fresh as a daisy” the next morning.
He thinks that’s due to the high-quality grapes being put through a mostly natural process, with the winemakers “doing as little as possible”.
“So perhaps the next morning, they were thinking: ‘I feel so much better than I thought I would!’.”