Some wine experts have a pretty loose definition of “unicorn wine.” I’ve seen critics give unexceptional wines the unicorn title simply because the vintner didn’t produce as much wine as expected in a particular year. Personally, I’m far more measured about which wines I deem unicorns. They can’t just be rare or expensive; they should make you feel instantly guilty for even thinking about uncorking them. Henri Jayer Richebourg 1986 is one of those rare wines that costs as much as a small car, and yet is worth every penny. It has a trifecta of unicorndom: historical importance, supremely low yields, and an otherworldly flavor (if you ever build up the courage to drink it, that is). Henri Jayer Richebourg 1986 is the very definition of a unicorn wine, and it sets the pace for all others in this category.
The End of a Dynasty
Henri Jayer first planted his soon-to-be-legendary vines in Burgundy’s Richebourg AOC starting in the 1940s. He made a metayage deal with the famous Vosne-Romanee family Noirot-Camuzet, who owned the land; Jayer would grow the grapes, while the Camuzet family shared in the profits. With Jayer’s hard work, the estate grew in size and quality, quickly becoming one of the most sought-after wines among Burgundy lovers. Over the decades, Jayer and the Camuzet family extended their contract dozens of times, but by the mid-1980s, the Camuzet family (now going by the name Meo-Camuzet) decided they wanted to grow and bottle the Richebourg wine on their own, and ended their metayage agreement with Jayer in 1987.
What no one realized at the time is that this decision would result in one of the most legendary wines in history. Rather than instantly ending their contract, Jayer agreed to cut back significantly on his own wine production in the Richebourg vineyard for a couple of years, giving the Meo-Camuzet family the chance to ease into full-time cultivation. In 1985 and 1986, most of the wine on the estate was labeled under Meo-Camuzet, rather than Henri Jayer. The true Henri Jayer labels were made from just one cask of wine each year. To put that in perspective, that is as few as 25 cases of wine, or 300 bottles. To say this wine is rare might be the understatement of the millennium.
Henri Jayer’s Resurgence
Henri Jayer Richebourg 1986 made history the moment it was released, but it wasn’t until Jayer’s death in 2006 that this vintage skyrocketed in value. This frequently happens with unicorn wines: the wine might receive some attention in its youth, yet it doesn’t become the great white whale of someone’s collection until after its original winemaker has retired or died. Knowing that there will never be another Henri Jayer label adds to the immense value of the 1986 vintage. For this reason, if you’re looking to invest in Henri Jayer, I recommend two vintages: the 1986 Richebourg and the 2001 Vosne-Romanee Cros Parantoux. The 1986 is important because it represents a turning point in Jayer’s career, when he stopped sharecropping and fully invested in his own vineyard. The 2001 is equally important, as it is the last vintage Jayer made before his retirement. At this point in time, the 1986 is worth more than the 2001 because there are fewer bottles on the market and the 1986 is also closer to its peak maturity.
The Wine That Keeps on Giving
I never recommend investing in a wine just because it has a high cost, especially with the price bubbles popping up in Bordeaux and Burgundy in recent years. Knowing this, if you have the opportunity to spend $20,000 on Henri Jayer Richebourg 1986, should you? Well, as long as you’re getting this vintage for less than $20,000, you are likely making a great investment. Some Henri Jayer vintages have sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars, yet this is likely a sign of a bubble, rather than a reflection of the true worth of this wine. If you do buy this wine or another Henri Jayer vintage for hundreds of thousands of dollars, you may not see a return on your investment once the bubble disappears.
That said, this is a wine that is already worth thousands on the market, and has the potential to be worth far more over the next 10 years. Most bottles go for about $13,000 to $25,000 each, depending on the seller, yet some experts predict that this wine could be worth as much as $15,000 more as it reaches its ideal maturity. As a word of caution, make sure you verify the authenticity of any bottle before you buy. Like other rare and sought-after vintages, this wine is commonly faked by wine frauds.
Since Richebourg 1986 is made from some of the finest Pinot Noir in Burgundy, it’s unlikely this wine will spoil in your cellar before you have the chance to turn it over for a profit or drink it at the perfect moment. These are wines that have a characteristic minerality that you’ll only find in the finest Burgundy producers, like DRC. Jayer’s wines tend to be woody and silky smooth, with strong spice that never feels overpowering. If you’re looking for a refined wine that represents the definition of balance and elegance, Henri Jayer Richebourg 1986 should be on your bucket list of must-find bottles.
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Harley is an Executive Wine Specialist for Vinfolio, helping collectors find the best wines for their collection. He’s a lover of everything outdoors and the proper bottles to go along with it. You can find him at any of the newest cocktail bars and restaurants in SF or on an adventure somewhere in between Lake Tahoe and the California coastline.