Worldwide sales of fine and rare wine exceeded $166 million in 2005, according to numbers just released by the major auction houses. The figure represents a sharp increase of 31 percent over 2004. U.S. wine auctions passed the $106 million mark, more than quadruple the U.K. total.
Among the houses, Christie's—which auctions wine in Los Angeles, New York, London, Paris and Geneva—led the pack with $41.97 million in global sales. Zachys followed with $33.8 million and Sotheby's with $29.1 million.
Once again, New York firms accounted for the lion's share of auction revenues, with a combined gross of $79 million—up 21 percent from 2004. Zachys alone accounted for nearly $27.6 million of the take, a record volume for a single location. (It also scored 2005's largest individual sale total: $9.76 million last October.) Acker Merrall & Condit and Aulden Cellars-Sotheby's were in a virtual dead heat at just under $18.7 million and $18.6 million, respectively. Of all the auction houses, Aulden Cellars-Sotheby's experienced the greatest growth, with sales up 48 percent for the year.
In its first year of business in Chicago, Hart Davis Hart logged $9.5 million.
In Internet sales, WineBid.com led with $20 million, a 16 percent increase over last year, followed by Acker Merrall & Condit at $2.2 million.
The top-selling wines of 2005 read like an enophile's fantasy list. Last October at Zachys with Wally's in Los Angeles, six magnums of Château Mouton-Rothschild 1945 commanded $100,300 (26 percent above the wine's average price in the second-quarter 2005 Wine Spectator Auction Index), and a case of DRC Romanée-Conti 1990 sold for $94,400 (up 39 percent from its Auction Index average). An imperial of Château Latour 1949 fetched $61,360, and a dozen bottles of Beaulieu Vineyards Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 1951 brought $30,680. Both were record prices.
Last November, Aulden Cellars-Sotheby's broke new ground with a case of DRC Romanée Conti 1989 that brought $85,188 (up 175 percent). A methuselah of Romanée-Conti 1999 and a dozen bottles of Romanée-Conti 1996 each fetched a record $76,375 (up 197 percent and 141 percent, respectively).
Also in November, Acker Merrall & Condit sold a methuselah of DRC La Tâche 1971 for $41,475 (up 415 percent). At a NYWinesChristie's sale in Los Angeles last October, a case of Château La Mission-Haut-Brion 1953 shot up 424 percent to fetch $25,850.
The focus of the bidding frenzy in 2005 was clearly centered on fine and rare wines of impeccable provenance. It often devolved into a battle of the bank accounts, as determined bidders threw caution to the wind and strenuously battled over hard-to-come-by labels. At the lower end of the price spectrum, however, the action was much calmer, enabling savvy collectors to snap up quality Bordeaux and Burgundy at saner prices.
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