For the second quarter in a row, the Hong Kong auction market outperformed the U.S., even as domestic sales held fairly steady: Average prices for collectible wines tracked by the Wine Spectator Auction Index fell a modest 3 percent from the previous quarter. By comparison, the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 10 percent.
In terms of dollar volume, U.S. auctions brought in much more money than a year ago: 14,239 lots sold for $37.9 million in the second quarter of 2010, compared with 14,031 lots sold for a total of $28.3 million in the second quarter of 2009, a 34 percent increase. Still, total sales were down 34 percent from the heady days of 2008, when U.S. auctions brought in $57,498,824 during the second quarter alone.
The big story, however, remains Hong Kong, where a total of 4,144 lots brought roughly $39 million. The average price per lot was considerably higher in Hong Kong ($9,413) than in the U.S ($2,663) as the Hong Kong sales tended to focus exclusively on high-ticket wines. This past May, Acker’s auction of “The Imperial Cellar” wine collection realized US$19.5 million, the largest wine auction ever held in Asia and the second biggest wine sale of all time worldwide.
Although most auction house directors felt that the domestic market had stabilized toward the end of May, the consensus among them is that the highly expensive 2009 Bordeaux futures campaign will impact the prices of older vintages in the auction pipeline. Sotheby’s Jamie Ritchie says that while first-growths and their equivalents will be most affected, there will be a trickle-down effect across the market. Christie’s Charles Curtis concurs: “This trend will be bolstered by the knock-on effect from the strong prices currently being paid for the 2009 Bordeaux futures. Supporting categories such as California Cabernets and wine from Italy, Spain and the Rhône should also trend up, but not at the same rate as the best of Bordeaux and Burgundy.”
It may, however, take some time for prices to rise, and until then, expect to find bargains on the market. For now, says John Kapon, Acker’s president, “It seems as if older vintages are instantly all the more undervalued, providing more opportunity for existing collectors.”
• DRC La Tâche 1990 which sold for $8,365 at Hart Davis Hart, 821 percent above the previous auction index average.
• A magnum of Château Cheval-Blanc 1982 fetched $3,630 at Zachys, up 117 percent.
• At NYWinesChristie’s, two six-bottle lots of DRC Romanée-Conti 1990 each brought a whopping $156,000. That works out to $26,000 per bottle, the highest price per bottle for Romanée-Conti 1990 at a U.S. auction. The same wines had originally sold at a Christie's auction in December 1999 as a 12-bottle lot for $41,400, a 654 percent return to the consignor in just over 10 years.
• Demand for Château Lafite 1982 remained extremely strong throughout the quarter. The vintage, which is especially popular in Hong Kong, hit a new high of $4,840 per bottle at a Zachys sale in New York.
• Armand Rousseau Chambertin-Clos de Bèze 1991 averaged $595 per bottle at Bonham's & Butterfields, down 62 percent.
• At Zachys, a magnum of Salon Brut Blanc de Blancs Champagne Le Mesnil 1985 averaged $1,089, down 60 percent.
• At Hart Davis Hart, a magnum of Château Pétrus 1982 averaged $5,019, down 58 percent.
• Clos St.-Martin St.-Emilion 1998 averaged a bargain $30 per bottle at Sotheby’s, down 50 percent.
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