The more we look into both the history of wine and the art of winemaking, the clearer it gets that there are more than a few reasons why some bottles of wine accumulate not only a hefty price tag, but also a hefty amount of prestige! From folkloric discovery to careful and precise scientific processes, designing and crafting the perfect bottle of wine is as much an art as it is a science.
Taste is complicated, however. And since we all have different palates and preferences, it might very well be impossible to define a general metric by which to decide which wines are “better” or “worse,” or which wines deserve more or less respect or prestige.
Luckily, we don’t have to do this ourselves, because wine experts already do this for us!
Specifically, wine competitions are opportunities for winemakers to submit their wines and see how they stack up against other bottles. And while there are lots of wine competitions to pay attention to, the biggest and most influential one is the Decanter World Wine Awards.
Careful inspection of wines by experts in each region and category decides a score “value” for each wine in the competition. The scores are independent of other scores, which means that multiple wines can be awarded the same amount of points and, naturally, multiple wines can receive the same award!
On the competition’s scale, the highest honor is the Best in Show award, made up by a collection of nearly-perfect wines selected from the highest award category: platinum.
So, what would it mean to get the highest honor from the most influential wine competition in the world? Well, we’d say that’s pretty prestigious.
Here are some of the wines awarded Best in Show in the Decanter in 2020:
- Albert Bichot, Domaine du Clos Frantin, Echezeaux Grand Cru, Burgundy, France, 2018
This Pinot Noir out of Burgundy, France could have scored well thanks to its name alone! Its vineyard is inherently one to impress. Luckily, there was no need to bank on biases for this one.
This wine’s nose is deep in its love for plum and dark cherry. The flavor is bold and alive and every bit as present as the price tag will have you expecting. Tannins are quiet and let the fruit take the spotlight. This wine left even professional judges restless for more.
- Alpha Omega, ERA, Napa Valley, California, USA, 2017
This bottle is a testament to the fact that not all great wine has to come from overseas. This one came from our very own home turf over in Napa Valley. Scoring just as high as the Burgundy champion, this 95% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Malbec left judges in bliss over the endless palate.
From the contest: “This is a wine of drama, yet it is also refined, even elegant; it is a wine of extravagant amplitude yet without an ounce of excess weight.” The bit of Malbec hints at tea-leaf and covers our palate in mulberry, blackberry, dark chocolate, and incense spices.
- Anderson Hill, O Series Shiraz, Lenswood (Adelaide Hills), South Australia, Australia, 2018
This bottle does come from overseas, but perhaps not from the vineyards you might have thought. This Shiraz comes out of South Australia and is a delicious reminder to the world that Australia churns out more than just Chardonnay.
This wine has a very much welcome bright cherry blossom on the nose with a deep, lively, round explosion of fruit with pepper on the back end in the mouth. This wine is also a good example that cool climates can deliver just as well as warm climates.
- Asconi Winery, Sol Negru Cabernet Sauvignon, Codru, Moldova, 2019
Not all award winners have to be deep in color, either, and this wine is proof. This Cabernet Sauvignon out of Codru is a rosé pink in color. This is certainly a bottle to put anyone who steers clear of lighter-colored wines in their place, because the impressive score here can be amply attested to.
Drinkability is the focus with these wines, which can often make it difficult to make it awfully interesting at the same time. This is proof, however, that interesting and easy drinking are not mutually exclusive. A slightly sweet nose leads you to a palate that hardly whispers sweet between its bright and round acidity. The flavors are just deep enough to keep things oh-so-enticing.
Other prestigious wines
While you aren’t going to find most of these wines for “corner store prices,” you also won’t have to sell your home to get your hands on a bottle. Prestige, here, is determined by consensus. There are other metrics we can turn to when defining prestige, of course, like accessibility. To use another word: price.
There is something to be said about bottles of wine that have almost unimaginably high prices. Whether this makes them more novelty than prestigious is up to the buyer, but it certainly doesn’t make them anything to scoff at. Let’s take a glance at some of these wines with mortgage sized price tags:
- Ampoule, 2004 Block 42 Cabernet Sauvignon from Penfolds
Whether this bottle screams prestige or something else entirely is in the eye of the beholder, but nobody can say that it doesn’t stand out! Coming out of South Australia, tasting this wine is an experience. The bottle, unlike most we see, comes with no cork or sealing mechanism at all. In order to be opened, a senior winemaking staff member will accompany you in order to break off the end of the glass bottle!
These bottles are the most expensive to be sold directly from a winemaker, coming in at a comfortable $168,000 per bottle. Yeah…
- Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon 1992
Screaming Eagle wines out of Oakville, California, are as great as they are scarce. Both of these characteristics have earned Screaming Eagle bottles a cult following.
Aged in 60% new oak and opaque purple in color, a bottle of Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon typically goes for just over $3,000. At a charity auction in 2002, however, this same bottle sold for a jaw dropping $500,000, making it the most expensive bottle of wine ever sold. Certainly, there’s some prestige in that!