Record $500,000 paid for 27 bottles of red wine

LONDON (Reuters) - While the global credit crunch has forced many consumers to rein in spending, one Beijing-based billionaire has splashed out a record $500,000 on 27 bottles of red wine, London-based Antique Wine Company said on Saturday.

Wine bottles are displayed at the Vinitaly wine expo in Verona April 4, 2008. REUTERS/Alessandro Garofalo

The anonymous Chinese entrepreneur bought a mix of vintages of Romanee Conti, a Burgundy wine and considered to be among the world’s most exclusive with only 450 cases produced each year.

The client bought 12 bottles of Romanee Conti 1978, two bottles of the 1961, 1966, 1996 and 2003 and single bottles of the 1981, 1990, 1992, 1995, 1999, 2001 and 2002.

“It is the highest price that has ever been achieved for a single lot,” Managing Director Stephen Williams of the London- based Antique Wine Company told Reuters on Saturday.

“I don’t think he has bought this as an investment -- he has bought it to drink,” he added. “The fine wine industry is completely immune from the global credit crunch.”

The client’s biggest previous purchase was 30,000 pounds ($59,880) for a case of 1982 Chateau Petrus.

Williams believes the Romanee Conti sale marks a significant change in Chinese wine buying habits.

“In the past, the Chinese have been drawn to the magnificent but simplistic qualities of the wines from the great chateaux of Bordeaux.

“Now, our leap in sales of Domaine de la Romanee Conti to mainland China this year in particular is indicating a broadening of their fine wine education and appreciation to the more complex wines of Burgundy.”

The highest prices paid for fine wines are for extremely special bottles, for example, those that reputedly came out of Thomas Jefferson’s cellar.

In his day, wine bottles were not labeled, so Jefferson poured the premium wines he imported in casks from Europe into bottles etched with his initials.

Malcolm Forbes, the late publisher of Forbes’ magazine, set a record in December 1985 when he paid 105,000 pounds, then about $162,750, for a 1787 bottle of red wine made by Bordeaux’s prestigious Chateau Lafitte.

In 2006 the Antique Wine Company sold the world’s most expensive bottle of white wine, a regular-sized bottle of Chateau d’Yquem 1787 for just under $100,000.

Reporting by John Joseph; Editing by Stephen Weeks