Worldwide sales of fine and rare wine at auction rose to nearly $96.2 million in 2003 -- a 7 percent increase over 2002, according to figures just released by the major commercial auction houses. Internet auction earnings amounted to an additional $16.6 million.
New York City accounted for the lion's share of revenues, with a total of $53 million. Just more than a year after becoming an independent auctioneer, Zachys, the Scarsdale, N.Y.-based retailer, led the Manhattan pack with $15.3 million in sales, followed by Aulden Cellars-Sotheby's at $13.2 million.
Acker Merrall & Condit -- the Manhattan retailer that conducts auctions in New York, Los Angeles and on the Internet -- retained its position from last year as the individual frontrunner in the auction world, with $16.6 million in sales. Winebid.com prevailed on the Web with an estimated $14.7 million.
London auctions posted a $6 million gain over 2002, with Christie's reporting $15.3 million in sales and Sotheby's $10.8 million. In terms of global revenues, Christie's and its New York counterpart, NYWinesChristie's, together realized $31 million, while Sotheby's and Aulden Cellars-Sotheby's jointly recorded $24 million.
Throughout 2003, demand for fine and rare wines of pristine provenance sent prices soaring above pre-sale estimates and the average prices in the Wine Spectator Auction Index. For example, in November, a case of Château Lafleur 1961 set a world record price of $73,438 at Aulden Cellars-Sotheby's. At the same sale, six bottles of Château Mouton-Rothschild from the legendary 1945 vintage sold for an astonishing $70,500, another world record.
At Christie's in London, a dozen bottles of DRC Romanée-Conti 1985 brought $55,583 last June, and in November, a case of Château Latour 1961 consigned directly from the property commanded a record $56,400 at NYWinesChristie's in Los Angeles.
The good news for buyers at the other end of the price spectrum is that the collectibles market has polarized: dozens of wines in the $350 to $500 range frequently sold at or below the low estimate.
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Read the year-end auction report from 2002: