Continuing a trend that began a year ago, Hong Kong wine auctions once again eclipsed their U.S. counterparts by a significant margin in the first quarter of 2011. In Hong Kong, seven sales, comprising 7,243 lots of fine wine, brought in a total of US $61 million in the first quarter. In contrast, eight auctions, containing 8,428 lots, earned $32.2 million in the United States.
Put another way, the average price per lot in Hong Kong amounted to $8,404 compared to $3,816 in America. However, the two markets are very different because Hong Kong specializes almost exclusively in ultra high-end collections, whereas their U.S. equivalents are more egalitarian.
Acker Merrall & Condit CEO John Kapon expects the trend to persist. "It does not look like it will be as close a race between the two auction centers in 2011 as it was in 2010. The biggest cellars and most valuable wines are finding their way to Hong Kong, as demand for Bordeaux at the very top level is generally stronger there," Kapon said. "[However], New York remains an important market, and often shows more strength outside of Bordeaux."
There was nothing shabby about auction results in the U.S., however. For the wines tracked in the Wine Spectator Auction Index price database that sold in the first quarter of 2011, the total value rose 8 percent above the fourth quarter 2010 value, making this the third consecutive quarter of increases. The average percent-sold rate for all auctions stood at an extremely healthy 97 percent. Nearly half the wines on offer in the first quarter posted an increase of 10 percent or better over their fourth quarter averages.
Dollar volume was up 32 percent in 2011, compared to the first quarter 2010 results. The average price per lot this quarter was $3,816, compared to $2,742 in the same period last year.
In the U.S. market, prices are increasing (for the wines and the average per lot) "due to a combination of more valuable wines being offered and buyers, particularly from Asia, purchasing a wider range of wines in the New York marketplace," said Jamie Ritchie, president and CEO of Sotheby’s wine. "I think this tendency will remain, as more Asian buyers will bid in both New York and London auctions. Another factor is stronger bidding by both South American and U.S. buyers, of which the latter are beginning to buy more aggressively."
Among the auction houses, the top three U.S. earners in the first quarter were Zachys with close to $11.2 million in sales, followed by Hart Davis Hart at nearly $10.6 million and Acker at more than $7 million. In Hong Kong, Acker led the pack with US $21.6 million in sales, followed by Sotheby's at $14.6 million, Christie’s at $9.9 million and Zachys at $9.2 million.
Among the individual wines that saw the biggest price increases, the top U.S. performer was a Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Santo Stefano di Neive Riserva 1985 that sold for $1,210 per bottle at Zachys, garnering 215 percent more than its average price in the fourth quarter of 2010. The top lot price-wise was an imperial of Château Lafite Rothschild 1982 that fetched $41,825 at Hart Davis Hart, up 32 percent.
• J.-F. Coche-Dury Corton-Charlemagne 2000 for $2,521 per bottle at Zachys (up 127 percent)
• Moët & Chandon Brut Champagne Cuvée Dom Pérignon Oenothèque 1976 for $2,271 per bottle at Hart Davis Hart (up 168 percent)
• Château Léoville las Cases St.-Julien 1982 for $807 per bottle at Sotheby’s (up 92 percent)
• Anne Gros Richebourg 2005 for $691 per bottle at Acker Merrall & Condit (up 73 percent)
• Opus One Napa Valley 1985 for $120 per bottle at Hart Davis Hart (down 41 percent)