4g wines
4G Wines set out to make SA's most expensive bottle. Source: 4g-wines.co.za
  • South Africa’s most expensive wine, made by 4G Wines, now costs around R8,000 a bottle - if you can find one.
  • Most of the locally produced, highly priced wine battles take place around the R1,500 mark, where one expert says you can find lifestyle wines that still offer excellent quality.
  • For more articles, go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

* This article has been updated below.

South Africa’s most expensive wine - excluding rare and limited edition auction wines - will set you back about R8,000 a bottle, depending where, when, and even if you can buy it. 

This dubious accolade of most expensive wine in South Africa currently belongs to producer 4G wines, whose 67 Imizuzu 2014 is currently selling online in Europe for R8,354. But according to Winemag.co.za editor Christian Eedes, who has tasted several of the label’s famously expensive creations, the company deliberately set out to make the country’s most expensive wine, and these hefty price tags are less about quality and more about prestige.

Some of the other wines that consistently appear on the most expensive list, including those from De Toren, have followed a similar model, he says, making “most expensive wines” lists a contentious topic in the wine world.

“Different wineries have different routes to market and different strategies. Some are more cynical than others, and I think there's an essential contrast between wineries that are focused on wine excellence, and farm accordingly, and are trying to be absolutely world class in wine quality terms, and those that are treating wine very much as a luxury lifestyle product,” says Eedes.

Eedes says one approach is not more legitimate than the other, but “as soon as it's a luxury lifestyle product you can look at it like something in the world of perfume - where the price bears absolutely no relation to the production costs, and it's all about positioning, and packaging, and presenting the product as appealing to the richest of the rich.”

In fact, Eedes says that fairly early on in the winemaking process there's a point where a bottle’s selling price bares no relation to its production cost.

“If you factor in prices of farming, very low yields, the best oak, the best cellar setup that you could possibly imagine, then there's no wine in the world that could possibly cost you more than R1,000 a bottle. So how do you get to R3,000, or R20,000 a bottle? That's all about supply and demand, reputation, rarity and other non-quantifiable things,” he says.

Below 4G’s pricey reds are two from the more accessible De Toren, called Black Lion and Book XVII, which is an estate that consistently hits the top of most expensive wines lists in South Africa. A bottle of each currently averages out at around R3,700 per bottle on international markets, but sell for R2,750 directly on the estate’s website.

“De Toren’s Black Lion and Book XVII were very much created as lifestyle products, and they're quite careful that they don't get too much critical scrutiny, because it's not helpful to their cause,” says Eedes. “Wine ratings aren't going to help them, one way or the other. It’s all about showing the wine in the right context - at the right restaurant to the right people.”

The two wines available from De Toren score an average of 90 and 92 respectively on Wine Searcher - slightly lower than others in the top five with similar references.

But the three other estates that currently feature in Wine Searcher’s top five most expensive wines from South Africa are more grounded, and garner greater respect from connoisseurs and critics.

“Mullineux, Kanonkop, and Sadie Family are very serious producers, and have earned proven track records over time, and what those guys are doing is saying 'This is the pinnacle of our range, hence why we demand a premium for it’,” says Eedes. 

Each of these winemakers is selling their flagship wines for between R1,000 and R2,000 a bottle, although they often go on to fetch significantly more than this abroad, or after some time. But it’s at this price point that Eedes says the debate around expensive wines gets more interesting.

Vilafonté, whose Series C is listed at around R1,500 a bottle, but sells online for slightly less, is just outside the top ten online prices, but is one wine Eedes says finds a good balance between quality and lifestyle; as is Mvemve Raats’ de Compostella 2017, which sells for between R1,100 and R1,500 a bottle.

“Mike Ratcliffe, ex of Warwick, [and now with Vilafonté] has worked very very hard both on his quality credentials and his luxury lifestyle credentials. Bruwer Raats, who makes de Compostella, is also working very hard to make wine that is both critically acclaimed and highly desirable in a lifestyle sense. And that's where it gets interesting, where you have producers who are attempting to achieve both critical credibility and proper luxury status,” says Eedes.

For this reason, most critics caution against picking out a wine based purely on its status - proclaimed or otherwise - as the most expensive in South Africa. Even so, if its lifestyle status you’re after, then price is a good yardstick and conversation piece, and one of these wines currently listed as the top ten most expensive from South Africa might do well at your next gathering:

South Africa's most expensive wines compared
South Africa's most expensive wines compared.

* References to 4G Wines lacking a visitor experience, and selling only via mail-order, were removed from this article after publication. 4G says it offers a "full local tasting experience" – to select clients, on application – and that it sells its wine through a variety of channels, including retail stores.

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