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Rare Wine Auctions Show No Signs of Slowing

Global sales rose 31 percent in the third quarter of 2018, thanks to bids on Burgundy and resurgent Bordeaux
While Burgundy continues to reign at rare wine auctions, top Bordeauxs like Pétrus are seeing higher prices.
Photo by: Courtesy Acker Merrall & Condit
While Burgundy continues to reign at rare wine auctions, top Bordeauxs like Pétrus are seeing higher prices.

Peter D. Meltzer
Posted: October 10, 2018

Summer is often a quiet time in the wine-auction market, but September brings exciting opportunities, and collectors took advantage last month, adding impressive rare wines to their cellars by pushing winning bids toward or above presale high estimates set by auction houses.

In the third quarter of 2018, global sales of fine and rare wine at auction totaled $70.4 million, up a whopping 31 percent over 2017’s third-quarter total of $53.7 million. U.S. sales totaled $36.1 million, up 19.1 percent. Hong Kong sales rose 49 percent, to $26.3 million, and London sales increased by 40 percent to $8 million. As in the previous two quarters, pristine single-owner cellars and winery-direct consignments generated much of the heated bidding.

This was a quarter for collectors with deep pockets. The average price per lot was $4,525 in the U.S., $8,789 in Hong Kong and $3,022 in London. And in an interesting twist, Bordeaux appears to be staging a comeback with collectors, after several years in the doldrums.

Below, we analyze recent U.S. commercial auctions and offer a preview of fourth-quarter sales.

Acker Merrall & Condit

Acker Merrall & Condit’s first September sale, held in New York, brought in $7.2 million against a presale high estimate of $7.3 million. It was 96 percent sold. “Burgundy didn’t take a vacation this summer,” quipped Acker Merrall and Condit CEO John Kapon, in a statement. All 25 of his sale's top lots hailed from the French region.

Foremost among the featured consignments was a colossal 300-plus lot collection from West Coast entrepreneur Wilf Jaeger, a collector of 30 years, which exceeded its high estimate of $2 million. The showstopper was a 45-bottle offering of Armand Rousseau Chambertin, spanning the 1964 to 2014 vintages, which sold for $124,000. A case of Domaine Leroy Richebourg 2009 sailed over its presale high estimate of $48,000 to fetch $62,000. A single bottle of Bouchard Père et Fils Les Vaucrains 1865 sold for $10,540, more than double its high estimate. So much for historical curiosities.

A jeroboam of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti La Tâche 1991 from another anticipated collection, dubbed the French Connection, sold above estimate for $44,640. Two magnums of Domaine Dujac Bonnes-Mares 1985 also exceeded estimates, selling for $37,200. Six bottles of Armand Rousseau Chambertin 1999 fetched $32,240, above the high estimate.

Zachys

Nearly 1,900 lots brought $9.8 million at Zachys’ first New York auction of the fall season. It was 95.8 percent sold. The sale consisted of several highly curated consignments, the most notable of which was a 309-lot collection of Richard and Susan Rogel, offered by the University of Michigan to benefit the Rogel Cancer Center. Their collection brought $3.4 million.

Six bottles of their DRC Romanée-Conti 1966 were snapped up for a record $111,150. Four magnums of DRC La Tâche 1971 sold for $104,975 and six magnums of Pétrus 1982 commanded $67,925. Five bottles of Henri Jayer Vosne-Romanée Les Brulées 1978 sold above estimate for $35,520

Highlights from other collections included four magnums of Château Palmer 1961 that sold above estimate for $67,925. Six magnums of Dujac Clos St.-Denis 1999 also sold above estimate for $44,460, as did six bottles of Château Cheval-Blanc 1948 that fetched $24,700. A three-bottle lot of E. Guigal Côte-Rotie La Mouline 1976 sold at the top of its estimate for $13,585.

Hart Davis Hart

Hart Davis Hart (HDH) kicked off its fall season with a massive three-day, 3,314-lot auction which sold over estimate and brought $16.7 million, the firm’s largest total ever. The sale was 100 percent sold.

Not surprisingly, choice Burgundies dominated. A small but exceedingly valuable collection realized a total of $3.9 million against presale estimates of $2.5 million to $3.8 million, with over 43 percent of lots selling above their high estimate. The consignment featured six magnums of DRC Montrachet 1996 that fetched $113,525 (above the $90,000 high estimate), six magnums of Armand Rousseau Chambertin-Clos de Bèze 1991 which sailed above its $65,000 high estimate to bring $107,550, and a case of Domaine Leroy Musigny 1991 that also sold for $107,550 against a top estimate of $90,000.

Bordeaux prices have been somewhat soft as of late, but a 909-lot consignment of first-growth Bordeaux met with resounding success, bringing in $4.3 million against presale estimates of $2.8 million to $4.2 million. “We predicted a strong sale and in fact we took a record number of bids,” CEO Paul Hart told Wine Spectator via email. “The depth of bidding and high hammer prices confirms the excitement around Bordeaux, particularly large-format bottles. A few examples were five jeroboam lots of Château Lafite Rothschild 1986 that each sold for $11,352 each against a top estimate of $7,500. Six magnums of Château Margaux 1990 brought in $7,767 against an estimate of $4,500 and a single magnum of Château Haut-Brion 1929 sold for $10,157, well above the top estimate of $6,000.”

Heritage

Is Bordeaux enjoying a comeback? According to Frank Martell, director of fine wine at Heritage Auctions in Beverly Hills, Calif., it is. The five most expensive wines at his small Sept. 15 auction (742 lots, with an aggregate of $1.5 million) all hailed from Pétrus. A dozen bottles from the 2000 vintage brought $51,660 against a top estimate of $47,500. A case of the 1990 sold for $44,280, and 12 bottles of the 1998 fetched $38,130, both above estimate.

“The Bordeaux market has certainly seen a swell in attention as the Burgundy market continues to price itself beyond the reach of many longstanding Burgundy lovers,” said Martell, via email. “This is the first time in my career that Pétrus appears to be a relative bargain, even to trophy hunters, but the shift in the market will soon be widespread. Mature Bordeaux currently offers a disproportionately high level of quality compared to other comparable wines."


Fourth-Quarter Preview

Acker Merrall & Condit hosts New York City sales on Oct. 12, Nov. 17 and Dec. 2.

Christie’s hosts a New York sale on Dec. 7 and 8.

Hart Davis Hart hosts a Chicago sale Nov. 9–12, focused on Bordeaux, and another sale Dec. 12.

Sotheby’s New York will be hosting a sale on Oct. 12 and 13 featuring a 750ml bottle of The Macallan 1926 60-year-old whisky with a Sir Peter Blake–designed label. It may fetch a record $1.2 million, as well as an historic collection of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti from the personal cellar of Burgundy's Robert Drouhin. Sotheby's has another sale on Nov. 17.

Zachys will host a New York sale on Oct. 20 titled “The Vault III,” offering a selection of large-format Bordeaux and an extensive array of premium Burgundies.


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