The Wine Spectator Auction Index, which tracks sales of commercial wine auctions in the United States, rose 2.14 percent to 313.13 points in the first quarter of 2013, marking the second quarter in a row that the index recorded an uptick. Percent-sold rates remained at a very healthy 97 percent.
Domestically, seven auctions, comprising a total of 6,316 lots, went on the block for an aggregate value of $22 million in the first quarter of 2013. In contrast, nine auctions realized $27 million in the first quarter of 2012. Although fewer wines were sold in the first quarter of 2013 than during the same period last year, the actual price per lot rose 13.4 percent to $3,433.
The Hong Kong auction market (tracked separately) proved less robust. There were three fewer auctions in the first quarter of 2013 than in 2012. As a result, sale totals dropped to US$22.6 million and HK$175 million from US$41.8 million and HK$41.8 million, while the average price per lot fell to US$4,095 and HK$31,783 from US$6,449 and HK$50,050.
A renewed demand for Bordeaux—a trend that began in the fourth quarter of 2012—has helped stabilize the auction market, said Per Holmberg, head of Christie’s New York wine department. “Although Burgundy remains a bit of the golden child, collectors are starting to look at Bordeaux as an attractive alternative. Châteaus such as Lynch-Bages and Cos-d’Estournel represent good value, especially from vintages such as 1995 and 1996, which are now drinking very well. Brazil has emerged as a big buyer.”
As a category, Bordeaux rose 2.5 percent, with several vintages surpassing that average by a considerable margin. The 1995 vintage gained 12 percent, led by Château La Mission Haut-Brion 1995, which climbed 40 percent to average $279 per bottle. Château Cheval-Blanc 1995 was up 29 percent at $428 per bottle. Bordeaux from the 1989 vintage increased by 9.4 percent. Frontrunners were Château Latour 1989, up 34 percent at $482 per bottle, and Pétrus 1989, up 29 percent at an average of $3,867 per bottle. In contrast, Château Ducru-Beaucaillou 1990 dropped 25 percent to average $114 per bottle.
The Burgundy category, tracked separately from the auction index, rose 1.26 percent in the first quarter. Top performers were Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Romanée-Conti 1989, which gained 142 percent to average $8,963 per bottle, and Ponsot Clos de la Roche Vieilles Vignes 1985, which climbed 55 percent to $3,585 per bottle. DRC labels remained the top sellers, capturing 19 of the top 20 Burgundy slots. At the other end of the spectrum, Louis Latour Corton-Charlemagne 2001 was down 29 percent at $62 per bottle, and Louis Jadot Meursault Perrières 2002 dropped 14 percent to $48 per bottle.
Premium California labels declined by 5 percent, with the 1994 vintage falling nearly 10 percent in value. Shafer Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District Hillside Select 1994 dropped 22 percent to average $301 per bottle. As a category, California cults barely budged in the first quarter. Colgin Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Herb Lamb Vineyard 1995, however, rose 37 percent to average $359 per bottle, and Dalla Valle Maya Napa Valley 1995 increased by 25 percent to average $320 per bottle.
Rhône reds were essentially flat, although Domaine du Pégaü Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée Réservée 2000 was up 69 percent at $120 per bottle, and Château de Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape 1990 rose 50 percent to $192 per bottle.
Vintage Port got a big boost from the stellar performance of Fonseca 1963, which skyrocketed 68 percent to average $306 per bottle. As a category, Vintage Port rose 25 percent. Italian estate bottlings enjoyed a 17 percent hike, in part due to Tenuta San Guido Bolgheri-Sassicaia Sassicaia 1997, which climbed 56 percent to average $322 per bottle.
As always, hard-to-come-by lots drew heated bidding. In February, Sotheby’s New York sold a balthazar (12 liters) of Ornellaia 2010, consigned directly from the property, for $11,638—nearly double the high estimate. At Acker Merrall & Condit’s January Hong Kong auction, six magnums of Dujac Clos de la Roche 1985 brought US$44,154 and HK$344,400 against a high estimate of US$24,000 and HK$123,450.
At Zachys’ Manhattan auction in March, the top lot was a rare methuseleh (6 liters) of DRC Romanée-Conti 1990, which sold at the high end of its estimate for $171,500. At Christie’s auction of the Henry Tang collection in Hong Kong in March, six magnums of DRC Romanée-Conti 1995 fetched US$155,000 and HK$1.2 million against a high estimate of US$130,000 and HK$1 million. At Hart Davis Hart’s March “Burgundy Only” sale in Chicago, a case of Ponsot Clos de la Roche Vieilles Vignes 1991 commanded $19,120, almost double its estimated value.
According to John Kapon, Acker’s CEO, 2013 definitely started off on the right foot for the fine- and rare-wine market. “The performance of Wall Street hasn’t hurt, nor has the fact that the government finally changed over in China. These external stabilities have allowed collectors to buy again with confidence.”