Have you ever wondered what are the rarest wines in the world ? Wine is a complex drink. It can be made with hundreds of different grapes in over seventy countries. There are dozens of wine styles, too, meaning there’s a bottle of wine for every palate, occasion, food pairing and budget.
And although there’s no doubt wine is immensely varied; some bottles are rarer than others. Let’s talk about the rarest wines, and by rare, we don’t mean the few bottles of 1945 Romanee-Conti still around, but about wines made with unusual methods or in unconventional places. Let’s get started!
1. Botrytized Wine
Most people discard rotten fruit immediately. Well, that’s not what happens in some wine regions. When the humidity and temperature are right, a fungus called botrytis cinerea infects the wine grapes just when they’re ready to be picked. The fungus leaches out the grapes’ water content, resulting in shriveled, ugly-looking wine grapes.
By pressing botrytized grapes, winemakers get small amounts of syrupy juice that becomes some of the rarest dessert wines in the world. You’ll find botrytized wine in Sauternes – France, Tokaji – Hungary, and some regions in Germany. This is truly a rare wine style.
You can’t talk about rare wine without mentioning Madeira. The Portuguese fortified wine is made on an island well into the Atlantic Ocean, where the weather is so hot that most people grow bananas rather than grapes. Still, the island’s wine is spectacular.
The wine here is not only fortified with a splash of grape spirit, but it’s also “cooked” literally in warm cellars or special stoves called estufagem. The result is oxidized, cooked, and boozy wine — it’s indestructible too. You can enjoy a bottle of premium Madeira after several centuries.
3. Valpolicella Ripasso
Valpolicella Ripasso is a unique wine style made on the outskirts of Verona, northern Italy. There are many styles of Valpolicella, and they’re all fairly common. The most robust is the famous Amarone Della Valpolicella, made with over-ripe grapes, but the rarest wine is its little brother — the Valpolicella Ripasso.
This is regular Valpolicella red wine “re-passed” or macerated in the leftover pressed grapes skins left behind after making Amarone. The unusual practice amps up the red wine and blesses it with extra color, flavor and intensity. Italian winemakers are resourceful, for sure.
Assyrtiko is the most exciting white wine in Greece and perhaps Europe. Think of a dry, crisp, deliciously mineral wine that goes great with seafood and Mediterranean specialties. What makes Assyrtiko on of the rarest wines in the world ? It only grows in Santorini, the picturesque island. Here, the wind is so strong winemakers must train the grape vines in the shape of a crown or basket at ground level, creating a spectacular sight. These vineyards are a pain to tend, and picking the grapes by hand is time-consuming, but the result is worth it.
Three Spanish appellations or DOCs make Txakoli, a rare white wine and specialty in the Basque Country. The Atlantic influence is potent in the area, so making regular wine is impossible. Instead, producers specialize in rare wine grapes, mainly Hondurrabi Zuri, resulting in crisp white wines, often with a slight effervescence.
Txakoli spends time on its lees or spent yeast, gaining richness, but it’s the wine’s fizz that makes it popular. What makes Txakoli one of the rarest wines ? You must serve it from a considerable height into the glass, effectively creating a wine waterfall. This helps remove the excess carbonic gas in the wine.
Norton is a rare wine grape. It’s one of the few hybrid varietals showing promise and the flagship grape in Missouri and Virginia. 99% of wine grapes are Vitis vinifera varieties, but Norton isn’t. Norton is a cross between vinifera and the rare Vitis aestivalis.
Aestivalis grapes are native to America but are rarely used to make wine since they produce foxy and funky scents. So, the world was shocked when wines made with Norton started to earn medals and high scores. This is the authentic American wine, and it’s incredibly rare — it’s delicious too! Think of a medium-bodied red with a fruit-forward personality.
7. Old-Vine Mourvedre
There are plots of old vines everywhere, but the oldest vineyards are all in Australia, where they kept the phylloxera pest at bay in the late 1800s, the insect that destroyed most vineyards worldwide. If you were wondering what the oldest vineyards are, here they are.
The oldest vineyard in the world is planted with Mourvedre, you’ll find it in Barossa Valley, Australia, and it produces superb grapes. Friedrich Koch planted these vines in 1853. Interestingly, wine made with these rare grapes has been available only since 1998.
8. Ice Wine
Ice wine is as rare as wine gets. Grape growers leave the fruit hang until the cold winter nights freeze the grapes. They’ll harvest the grapes rock-solid, often early in the morning, and press them to separate the sweet, syrupy juice from the ice shards. The result is liquid gold, sweet nectar with the most luscious personality.
You’ll find ice wine in northern wine regions, including Germany and Canada. Ice wine is scarce but not all that pricey, considering it’s incredibly hard to make.
9. Vin Santo
The famous Italian “Holy Wine” is a historical and unusual wine style. You’ll find this beauty in Tuscany, although there are versions of it in other regions around the country. What makes vino santo on of the rarest wines unique is the combination of Malvasia and Trebbiano. The wine is often fortified and can be sweet or dry.
The grapes used for vin santo are picked and dried in straw mats, where they shrivel and gain concentration. Winemakers make wine with these grapes and age it in super small barrels called Caratelli. Legend says this is the best wine to pair with biscotti!
10. Salta Torrontés
If you’re into wine, you’ve probably heard about high-altitude vineyards and their exclusive wines. Well, no wine region has a higher elevation than Salta in Argentina. High altitude promotes higher acidity, and acidity makes wine thirst-quenching and food compatible.
Some vineyards in Salta are at 3,000 meters (9840ft) above sea level, making them some of the highest in the world. Of course, the wine is crisp and delicious. However, these might not be the highest commercial vineyards for long, as Chinese producers are doing wonders up in the Himalayas!
The wine style that started it all. Saperavi is a rare red wine grape in Georgia, the cradle of wine. Here is where it all started for wine, as vinifera grape vines are native to the area. In Georgia, wine traditions go back thousands of years, and some producers continue making wine traditionally in clay vessels or “qvevri,” buried in the ground.
There’s a white grape in the area as well, Rkatsiteli, and it’s equally rare and interesting. Tasting Georgian Saperavi is going back in time, and it’s a life-changing experience for many wine lovers!
12. Central Otago Pinot Noir
All wines made with Pinot Noir are awesome. The thin-skinned Burgundian variety produces elegant wines with beautiful bouquets and a silky palate. Some of the rarest Pinot Noir comes from Central Otago, the southernmost wine region in New Zealand and the world.
Being a southern wine region has benefits, as the cold weather helps producers make fine wine with elegance and fruit purity. The wine here is good, and although rare, it’s not particularly costly— it’s also relatively available!
13. Chile’s Old-vine Carignan
Chile is a wine powerhouse. Producers make fantastic everyday wine in the country’s valleys and a few gems for special occasions, too! And although most Chilean wines are made with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc and Carmenere, the rarest wines are made with Carignan.
It turns out that Chile’s southern wine regions, mainly the Maule Valley, are home to old vine Carignan planted over a century ago. These vineyards, often abandoned, are still a source of concentrated grapes, used to make perhaps the rarest Carignan in the world. Of course, you’ll have to try the wine to discover the purest expression of the unusual grape.
14. Vin Jaune
The historic vin jaune or “yellow wine” is a specialty in Jura, France, and it’s made with Savagnin grapes, locally known as Nature. Vin Jaune is not all that expensive, but it is rare — it’s one of the longest-lived white wines in the world! There’s nothing like it.
To make vin jaune, producers age the dry white wine under a veil of yeast, just like they do in Sherry for their most delicate wines. The thin film growing on the wine’s surface creates an extraordinary set of unusual aromas reminiscent of toasted nuts, saffron and tea. If you think you know what white wine tastes like, try vin jaune.
15. English Fizz
Let’s end our list with bubbles. After all, who doesn’t enjoy a bottle of fizz from time to time? And although Champagne is the best-known and perhaps the most exciting wine in the category, English sparkling wine is the new kid on the block.
England has always been too cold and rainy for growing wine grapes, but that has changed recently. Now, southern England thrives with vineyards, and the specialty in the area is sparkling wine. This is still rare wine but expect the category to grow in popularity in upcoming years!
What Are Your Favorite Rare Wines?
Not all rare wines are expensive, and some are relatively easy to find, even if rare! This means there’s no reason not to add a few rare gems to your wine rotation. What’s cool about wine is telling the stories behind every bottle while pouring it to your friends and family.
Wine is more than a boozy drink; it’s culture, tradition and history; it is special because, in a way, every bottle is rare. The question is, what are your favorite rare wines?