A single bottle of 1951 Penfolds Grange has broken all records by fetching US$27,000 (€25,308) at auction – and it's almost certainly undrinkable.

The wine was sold to a private collector, who also bought a complete set of Penfolds Grange – from 1951 to 1966 – for AU$190,680 (€178,718). He now owns nine complete sets.

The record prices were the highlight of the Penfolds Grange Shiraz 50th Anniversary Auction hosted by Australian wine auctioneers Langton’s today. Extraordinary recognition has been heaped on Australia’s most famous red. US magazine Wine Spectator has named the 1990 its Wine of the Year, and the 1955 one of the top 12 wines of the century. In 2000 the influential Langton’s Classification of Australian Wine gave it ‘Exceptional’ status.

Of all Grange, the 1951 is the rarest. It was founder Max Schubert’s first experimental cuvée, and was welcomed with a chorus of derision only matched by the adulation Grange receives today. A note from a 1956 tasting of the first six vintages called it ‘a dry port which no one in their right mind will buy – let alone drink.’ Schubert (pictured) was ordered to stop production and had to make the wine in secret for the next few years.

Penfolds itself says the 1951 is of curio value only. ‘Valuable collector’s item,’ the official tasting note reads. ‘Well past its peak; dull, tawny colour; skeletal; little flesh; fading tannins. Curio.’

Nowadays complete sets of Grange are as rare as snow in Alice Springs. The 1951 – most of which Schubert gave away to friends – is rarer still. Most bottles are in sets, so to find one on its own is a triumph.

‘This is a strategic investment in a wine which has played a highly important role in the development of the Australian wine industry and Australian culture,’ said the buyer, who wishes to remain anonymous. ‘I bought my first set some years ago for AU$30,000 (US$15,500). While this ninth set may be a record price for a single set at auction I feel that my collection represents an excellent rate of return on funds deployed.’

The previous record for a set of Grange was AU$176,000 (US$91,500), in November 2000. The international record for a single bottle of 1951 Grange was AU$46,620 (US$24,223), set in April 2001.

Written by Adam Lechmere30 November 2001