While many will blanche at the lofty prices of some luxury wines, its seems Ballarat still has a hidden passion for some of the most beautiful things that come in a bottle. Kara Irving goes exploring to find out what is on offer. Pictures by Adam Trafford and Kate Healy.
BALLARAT wine lover Tony Campana isn't surprised by the top two contenders for Ballarat's most expensive drop.
Penfolds Grange Hermitage with a 1976 vintage topped the Courier's unofficial wine list when it comes to price.
Craig's Royal Hotel offers the experience to dine-in customers at their Lydiard Street restaurant for $1500 a pop.
A bottle of Chateau Mouton Rothschild from 2008, one of most coveted First Growth Bourdeaux's from France, stocked at Dan Murphy's Ballarat came in second place.
The Penfolds variety wasn't shy on the list, with each of the three wines retailing for more than $500.
But does a wines' exclusive price tag always equal value for money?
Mr Campana said there were a number of factors influencing price.
"It has nothing to do with taste," he said.
"Inflation is a factor and world wide demand can push the price up."
"You could get that Penfolds (Grange Shiraz) 20 years ago for $50, now its $750," he said.
"Like anything, inflation increases the price."
Supply and demand is another factor that drives up wine prices.
"Penfolds Grange is easily one of the biggest wines in Australia," Mr Campana said.
"Grange comes from a number of different vineyards in the Barossa Valley and Hill of Grace comes from a single vineyard."
He said some of the vineyards were 120 years old.
"The less bottles you have of a certain wine, the price will go up."
The smaller the vineyard, the less bottles produced and wine sold.
But price hasn't stop affluent Ballarat wine drinkers from spending.
While some people complain about a disparity between retail prices and those offered at restaurants and cafes, they often forget the price at the later often includes the expertise of a sommelier, the appropriate glassware and the luxury of the surroundings to match the wine.
Craig's Royal Hotel managing director John Finning said top end wines sold well.
"While a keen wine lover or diner with a specific celebration in mind might order such a wine, most diners enjoy really good wines at the other end of the price spectrum," he said.
"A Ballarat favourite is the 2011 Tomboy Hill Rebellion Pinot Noir at $10.50 a glass or $45.00 a bottle and the 2010 Geoff Oliver Pyrenees Shiraz at $10.50 a glass or $42.50 a bottle."
Mr Finning said customers would purchase an expensive drop over dinner and return to finish the bottle on a different occasion.
"It is not unusual for a bistro diner to find a particular older vintage wine from our cellar and methodically ordering it each visit until the supply is exhausted," he said.
"This follows the age old principle-when you're on a good thing - stick to it."
Mitchell Harris Wine Bar's Jackie Watts hasn't sold an expensive drop of wine herself, but has been a witness.
"I've been there when the Sangiovese was sold and the BilleCart,(champagne)" Ms Watts said.
"The people bought it because they knew (the brand)."
Ms Watts said Mitchell Harris would sell about two or three expensive bottles of wine a year.
"We don't sell that many, people are usually celebrating and they know what they are buying," she said.
"Usually it's older people, older than 30, who are buying them."
At Table 48, restaurant owner Gus Raschilla said customers bought quality wines to celebrate anything from closing a business deal to celebrating a birthday.
"You never know who wants to buy one," Mr Raschilla said.
"We sell a lot more of the $120 to $200 bottles of wine."
Mr Raschilla stocks a couple of thousand bottles of wine at his Humffray Street restaurant.
Diners can wander through Table 48's cellar to choose a drop.
"We do look after the local wines as well," Mr Raschilla said.
The Mallow Pub is also supportive of home grown wines.
Owner Sophie Robb said a Sally's Paddock shiraz from Redbank was the pub's priciest bottle.
"It is sold occasionally, but not regularly," she said.
"We sell one a month and it's bought by an older generation."
She said wine connoisseurs would take time to enjoy the bottle over a meal.
"It's more of a dinner thing and for people not celebrating," she said.
"We have so much wonderful wine in our own backyard."
And fine wine doesn't just exist in white table-clothed restaurants.
"We have so much wonderful wine in our own backyard."Sophie Robb
The Courier's random list of Ballarat's ten most expensive wines showed a interesting mix of Australian and foreign, with some familiar icons and some lesser known gems. There was only one white wine; the undisputed king of dessert wines, the sauterne Chateau D'Yquem.
Despite the price tag of French wines Chateau Mouton Rothschild's cabernet sauvignon blend, and Chateau Cheval Blanc all retailing for more than $1000 dollars at Ballarat's Dan Murphy's they are still much sought after wines.
"They are very popular for collectors in Melbourne," duty manager Ben Nuttall said.
"People have driven up to Ballarat just to buy a bottle, (the wines) are very rare."
The closest Mr Nuttall has come to selling an expensive bottle of wine is Dom Perignon.
"They retail at $250 a bottle, and the people bought six at one time," he said.
"It was for a wine society dinner."
Mr Nuttall said price rarely equated to quality.
"A lot of people are paying for the reputation, instead of $1000 worth of quality," he said.
As for whether many people are purchasing high-end wines at Mr Campana's Ballarat store?
"There's not enough," he laughed.
Ballarat's most expensive bottles of wines.
- Craig's Royal Hotel. Penfolds Grange Hermitage, 1976 vintage, price: $1500.*
- Dan Murphy's Ballarat. Chateau Mouton Rothschild, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2008 vintage, price: $1299.
- Table 48. Penfolds Grange. Shiraz. 2008 vintage, price: $1200.
- Dan Murphy's Ballarat. Chateau Cheval Blanc, Cabernet Franc, 2008 vintage, price: $1080.
- Dan Murphy's Ballarat. Chateau d'Yquem, Sauternes, 2000 vintage, price: $1000.
- Campana's Stockade Cellars. Penfolds Grange, Shiraz, 2009 vintage, price: $750.
- Campana's Stockade Cellars. Hill of Grace, Shiraz, 2002 vintage, price: $700.
- Campana's Stockade Cellars. Penfolds Bin 60A, 2004 vintage, price: $500.
- Table 48. Thompson Family, Shiraz, 1995 vintage, price: $340.*
- Mitchell Harris Wine Bar. Biondi-Santi Brunello di Montalcino, Sangiovese, 2006 vintage, price: $295 *
* These wines are in house prices so include hospitality and service.
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