Burgundy's 146th Hospices de Beaune wine auction, held in the city of Beaune on Nov. 19, brought in 5.05 million euros ($6.5 million), including the 6 percent buyer's premium. While the total is down marginally from last year's take of 5.08 million euros, this year's sale offered a smaller amount of wine--680 barrels compared to 789 in 2005, and no wine by the case--therefore sparking competitive bidding. The average price per barrel was 7,433 euros, a 55 percent increase from 2005.
The annual charity auction, which consists of barrel lots produced from vineyards owned by the Hospices de Beaune, often gives Burgundy drinkers an indication of the wine quality and prices they can expect from the new vintage. This year's auction saw a wide gap in price increases, with reds remaining relatively flat and the whites soaring even though the 2006 growing season was largely considered to be problematic, with several weeks of cold, rainy weather in the final run up to harvest. But prices can also swing depending on how generous the audience is feeling, since the auction's celebrity presidents--roles held this year by Princess Margarita of Romania and actresses Fanny Ardant and Alice Taglioni--help encourage high bids to boost the amount of money that's raised for the modernization of the nonprofit hospital's facilities and medical equipment.
In all, 564 barrels of red wine and 116 barrels of white wine went on the block. The average price for red barrels rose only 1.08 percent, while the average price for white cuvées rose 63 percent over last year, according to Christie's, which organized and conducted the sale for the second year running. This would suggest more confidence in the quality of the '06 whites than in that of the '06 reds.
"It shows that there is a strong demand for the whites (Meursault and above)," said Louis-Fabrice Latour, CEO of Louis Latour and president of the Syndicat des Négociants en Vins de Bourgogne. "We knew that a 30 to 40 percent [rise] was bound to happen." Regarding the relatively flat prices for the reds, he said, "We were expecting a small increase, but it does reflect the heterogeneity of the vintage. If 2006 reds are superior to 2004, it's not the caliber of 2005."
Richard Brierley, head of Christie's North American wine department, echoed Latour's assessment. "There were some great grand cru reds, although some premier cru were problematic," he said. However, he added that there were some barrels of very high quality that attracted fierce bidding. "Vintage quality spoke through the sale," Brierley said. "Bidders went after the best."
Among those considered to be the highest quality were the whites from Bâtard-Montrachet, which also brought in the highest prices. Two barrels of the Cuvée Dames de Flandres fetched 82,404 euros ($105,642) each, compared to $85,000 in 2005. A special "President's Barrel" (a lot sold each year since 1945 to benefit several charities), from Cuvée Dames Hospitalières, a Beaune premier cru, fetched a record 200,000 euros ($256,000). Madeleine Collignon Mazis-Chambertin brought $45,507 per barrel against a presale high estimate of $31,000.
Until last year, only Burgundy négociants participated in the auction, but this year was the second in which private individuals were able to participate and buy barrels of different cuvées. The winning bidders take possession of their wines after they are aged and bottled. Each barrel, after maturation, yields 288 bottles (24 cases of 12 bottles or of 6 magnums), which carry the Hospices label and feature the buyer's name.
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