The Wine Spectator Auction Index, which tracks sales of commercial wine auctions in the United States, rose a modest 1.5 percent from 332.65 points in the first quarter of 2014 to 337.63 in the second quarter. This meager progress, however, belies three months of auction action filled with excitement and tremendous purchases.
The second quarter of 2014 witnessed a spate of lots attracting stellar prices, ranging from a dozen bottles of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Romanée-Conti 2009, sold in May at Hart Davis Hart in Chicago for $155,350—up 8 percent—to six magnums of Schrader Cabernet Sauvignon Old Sparky 2007, which at $22,230 gained 69 percent at New York’s Acker, Merrall & Condit in June. At Zachys’ May auction in New York, a case of Château Cheval-Blanc 1982 fetched $15,925, up 54 percent.
In the U.S., 14,684 lots tracked by the Auction Index went on the block in the second quarter of 2014 for a total of $38.2 million—1 percent lower than in the second quarter of 2013, when 15,211 lots totaled $38.6 million. However, the average price per lot in the second quarter of 2014 rose to $2,600 from $2,537 in 2013, an increase of 2.5 percent. The sell-through rate in the second quarter of 2014 was 95.4 percent, higher than the 94 percent achieved in the same quarter last year.
Meanwhile, in Hong Kong, 5,566 lots brought $34.7 million in the second quarter of 2014, up 23 percent over the same quarter of 2013. The average price per lot in the second quarter of 2014 was $6,234, compared to $5,825 in 2013. The Chinese market remains almost exclusively fixated on high-end lots, so it’s no surprise that Hong Kong buyers purchased some of the quarter’s priciest wines. (All figures given in U.S. dollars.)
At Sotheby’s April auction in Hong Kong, six bottles of DRC Romanée-Conti 1990 sold for $172,756 (up 83 percent from last quarter's U.S. Auction Index price). That works out to $28,693 per bottle, the highest figure for a 750ml lot at Sotheby's so far this year. Also in Hong Kong, a methuselah of DRC Romanée-Conti 1997 from the collection of Sir Alex Ferguson, the celebrated former manager of soccer club Manchester United, earned $158,760 at Christie’s in May, against a presale high estimate of $129,000.
Hart Davis Hart led the domestic auction pack with a total of $12.1 million in sales, trailed closely by Acker, Merrall & Condit with $11.1 million. In Hong Kong, Sotheby’s prevailed with $15.9 million in revenue, followed by Christie’s at $8.3 million.
By volume, Bordeaux continues to represent the largest category of wine sold at auction, though it dropped 3 percent in value this quarter. “Bordeaux continues to lose market share, and the main reason is that the 2005 and younger vintages are simply not trading actively," said John Kapon, CEO of Acker, Merrall & Condit. "Yet there are definite opportunities in older Bordeaux, as I am a firm believer that if something [sold] consistently at a certain price level in the past, it will do so again.”
With a 5 percent increase, 1989 represented the strongest Bordeaux vintage in the second quarter. Château Gruaud-Larose 1989 fared even better, rising 17 percent to average $96 per bottle; Château Léoville Las Cases 1989 rose 15 percent to average $180 per bottle. Other highlights included Château Cos-d’Estournel 2000, which at an average $187 per bottle climbed 31 percent. Conversely, its 1990 vintage, at an average $202 per bottle, saw a 21 percent drop.
“Demand for all top-quality wines that are ready to drink continues to strengthen, particularly in North and South America, and also Asia,” observed Jamie Ritchie, CEO of Sotheby’s Wine. “For younger wines, there is consistent demand, but the market is more price-sensitive.”
After posting an 8 percent rise in the first quarter of 2014, premium California wines fell 3 percent in the second quarter. The iconic Harlan Estate 1994 dropped 17 percent to average $876 per bottle. Better performers were Dominus Estate 1997, which advanced 37 percent to average $204 per bottle, and Joseph Phelps Insignia 1997, up 12 percent at $253.
As a category, Vintage Port increased by 6 percent. Graham Vintage Port 1970 rebounded from its 13 percent loss in the first quarter of 2014 with a 37 percent gain in the second, raising its average to $153 per bottle. Fonseca Vintage Port 1977 fell 33 percent to an average of $78 per bottle.
Italian estate wines were essentially flat, but one exception was Gaja Langhe Sorì San Lorenzo 2000, which registered a 14 percent increase to average $309 per bottle.
Rhône wines, tracked separately from the Auction Index, also stayed nearly stagnant, falling 1 percent. Leading the category, however, were Henri Bonneau & Fils Châteauneuf-du-Pape Réserve des Célestins 1989, which climbed 54 percent to average $1,026 per bottle, and Château de Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape 1985, up 68 percent for an average $123.
Burgundies, also tracked separately, rose 2 percent as a category. Two of the highest gains in the quarter were Ramonet Bâtard Montrachet 1985, advancing 52 percent for an average of $637 per bottle, and Armand Rousseau Chambertin-Clos de Bèze 1996, which at $1,563 per bottle rose 46 percent. In fact, Kapon says that Burgundy now accounts for 47 percent of his firm’s revenues, evidence of this category’s growing cache among collectors. “Burgundy has become the new king of the auction market,” said Kapon.
In other news, Wally's, the Los Angeles retailer and New York-based fine-wine auction newcomer, has landed the prestigious collection of Roy Welland. Offerings from Welland’s collection of nearly 100,000 fine and rare wines—primarily Burgundy, and valued at $15 million—will be available at auction and retail in fall 2014.
Our Auction Price Database has been updated with second-quarter 2014 results. WineSpectator.com members: Find out how much your wine is worth.