A bottle of 1951 Grange, the experimental first vintage produced by Penfolds chief winemaker Max Schubert, which he then gave away for free to family and friends, set a new auction record last night when it sold at a Langton’s auction for $67,001.
The price smashes the previous record of $51,750, set less than 12 months ago.
With 16.5% buyer’s premium, the total cost of the bottle is $78,000, which makes the $65,000 someone paid to buy one from Dan Murphy’s in 2015 look like a bargain. (Like Dan Murphy’s, Langton’s is owned by supermarket giant Woolworths).
An 1975 Imperial (6 litres) of Grange sold for $34,601 ($40,310 inc. BP) breaking the previous record by $11,000, while one of the “hidden” Granges, the 1958, sold for a new record of $16601 ($19,340 inc. BP).
Three vintages, the ’57, ’58. and ’59 are known as the “hidden Granges” because when Schubert presented the wine to management in 1957, it was universally disliked and the winemaker was told to shut down the project. He ignored them, hiding those vintages in the cellars before the Penfolds board ordered a restart on Grange for the 1960 vintage.
The Langton’s Rewards of Patience auction offered more than 800 bottles of Penfolds wines, including a complete set of Grange from 1951 to 2013. It sold for $265,001 ($308,726 inc. BP), considerably less than the record $332,608 paid by Justin Hemmes’ Merivale group last December.
At the Langton’s auction, another bottle of a legendary Penfolds red, the 1962 Bin 60A Coonawarra Cabernet-Kalimna Shiraz, sold for $12,000 ($13,980 inc. BP). Britain’s Decanter magazine lists it as one of its wine to try before you die.
An incredibly rare half bottle of the ’52 Grange, the first commercially released vintage, also fetched $12,000 ($13,980 inc. BP), a 40% increase on the price paid for one in 2017.
Langton’s Head of Auctions Tamara Grischy, said it was the company’s most most successful auction to date and demonstrates “how Penfolds continues to pique the interest of avid collectors and wine lovers alike”.
Many of the premium wines sold had been checked at Penfolds Red Wine Clinics over the past 14 years. At the clinics, Penfolds experts open the bottle, tastes it, tops it up with current vintage of the same wine, then recork it.
The 1951 was last checked in 2004 and at the ripe old age of 67, is now well past its prime.
Penfolds last opened bottles of the ’51 as part of its Rewards of Patience program in 2012 and concluded at that point that the wine was “past its peak”.
“Some bottles still have fruit sweetness and flavour length. Largely the wine has a dull tawny colour and skeletal palate structure with little flesh and fading tannins,” the tasting notes say.
The wine is 100% Shiraz, with 50% of the grapes from the Magill Estate in Adelaide and 50% from Morphett Vale. Schubert made just 100 cases. Less than two dozen are believed to still exist. The bottle sold last night was owned by someone Schubert gave it to more than half a century ago.
Grange is now a National Trust heritage-listed wine.
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