Forget about Halloween; think deluxe wine auctions from Oct. 26 to 30. Four major sales conducted by Acker Merrall & Condit, Hart Davis Hart, Aulden Cellars-Sotheby's and NYWinesChristie's are offering a cornucopia of vintage treasures, focusing on the finest and rarest goodies.
The most dramatic auction is Acker Merrall's "The Man with the Golden Cellar," which takes place on Oct. 26 and 27 at Le Bernardin restaurant in New York. The 11,474-bottle consignment is expected to bring in as much as $20 million. While the consignor's identity remains anonymous, he is rumored to be a California dot-com maven with a meticulously stored 65,000-bottle cellar. "Basically, if you had a wish list for the world's greatest wines of the past 25 years, and added a selection of the greatest wines ever made during the 20th century, this auction would be it," said John Kapon, Acker's auction director.
Recent releases include six magnums of Château Ausone 2003 estimated at $20,000 to $30,000, exclusive of the 21 percent buyer's premium. (As a guideline, the third-quarter 2007 Wine Spectator Auction Index average for six magnums of Ausone is $26,070 inclusive of the buyer's premium). A case of the classic Château Haut-Brion 1989 is estimated at $14,000 to $18,000 (the auction index average is $15,720), and 12 bottles of Château Lafleur 1961 will go on the block for $75,000 to $100,000 (the index average is $49,776). A potential showstopper is a case of the legendary Château Mouton-Rothschild 1945 at $80,000 to $120,000 (the index average is $125,520).
There are nearly twice as many red Burgundies in the sale as Bordeaux—4,838 bottles in all, including 1,297 from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. A single bottle of DRC Romanée-Conti 1945 is offered at $26,000 to $35,000 (the index average is $31,460), and a rare jeroboam of DRC Romanée-Conti 1962 is $45,000 to $65,000 (the index average is $65,725). A case of A. Rousseau Chambertin Clos de Bèze 1969 is estimated at $45,000 to $55,000 (the index average is $57,360). Six bottles of G. Roumier Musigny 1962 are on the block for $32,000 to $45,000 (the index average is $53,778).
Fortunately, the Man with the Golden Cellar sale does not include a bottle of '74 PhuYuck.
Hart Davis Hart
Hart Davis Hart is conducting a two-day sale on Oct. 26 and 27, which technically does not qualify as a "curated" sale because it contains less expensive lots priced under $1,000. Yet the sale abounds with treasures. Highlights include a West Coast consignment rife with Château Pétrus, large-format first-growth Bordeaux, rare Barolos and Barbarescos from Bruno Giacosa, plus a special offering from Bodegas Vega Sicilia. HDH levies a buyer's premium of 19.5 percent.
The Pétrus selection includes a dozen bottles from the 2000 vintage with an estimate of $30,000 to $45,000 (the index value is $40,116), a case of 1989 estimated at $26,000 to $38,000 (the index average is an even higher $42,516), a double magnum of 1982 valued at $15,000 to $22,000 (the index average is $14,973) and a magnum from the 1970 vintage estimated at $3,500 to $5,500 (the index average is $5,144).
The large-format offering of first-growths and their equivalents includes 15 imperials of Château Lafite and a 6-liter bottle of Pétrus 1982 estimated at $36,000 to $50,000 (the index average is $46,405). From a separate collection, there's an imperial of Latour 1982 at $10,000 to $15,000 (the index average is $22,705) and an imperial of Château Lafleur 1985 with an estimate of $6,000 to $9,000 (the index average is $16,730).
Sotheby's "Evening of Exceptional Wines," to be held Oct. 29, demonstrates that a small sale can pack a big punch. The auction kicks off with a 15-bottle vertical of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Montrachet spanning 1982 to 2004, estimated at $30,000 to $47,500. A superlot consisting of a dozen bottles each of all first-growths from the 2000 vintage plus Châteaus Ausone and Cheval-Blanc is estimated at $70,000 to $100,000. A case of DRC Romanée-Conti 1989 bears a $100,000 to $150,000 estimate (exclusive of the 19.5 percent buyer's premium). The auction index average is $87,120. The 1990 DRC is being offered at $120,000 to $200,000 (the auction index average is $161,628).
Making their commercial auction debut are five double magnums of Colgin Cabernet Sauvignon Tychon Hill from 2000 to 2004, estimated at $15,000 to $30,000. Also going on the block is a well-sourced selection of standard and large-format bottlings from the cellar of Ronald Weiser, former U.S. Ambassador to the Slovak Republic. Included in the consignment are two bottles of Château Lafite 1870, estimated at $14,000 to $20,000 (the index average is $8,366). There are two magnums of Château Cheval-Blanc 1929 also estimated at $14,000 to $20,000 (the index average is $17,926) and an 18-bottle superlot from the 1928 vintage culled from nine classified growths, estimated at $17,000 to $27,750.
Superlots abound throughout the catalog. There's a Right Bank horizontal from the 2000 vintage consisting of six bottles each from Château Ausone 2000, Château Pétrus, Château Lafleur, and Le Pin valued at $50,000 to $70,000. A 48-bottle offering of Châteauneuf-du-Pape Château Rayas Châteauneuf-du-Pape Réservé 1995 is estimated at $16,000 to $25,000 (the index average is $23,424). A single bottle of Inglenook Cabernet Sauvignon 1941 is estimated at $7,000 to $10,000 (the index average is $9,988).
Christie's Oct. 30 evening sale of fine and rare wines begins with an offering from the famed cellars of Bordeaux négociant Mähler-Besse, whose vintage treasures haven't budged since their purchase upon release. Among the lots is a case of Latour 1955 at $20,000 to $30,000 (the index average is $12,036). The estimate for a full case of the celebrated Château Mouton-Rothschild 1945 is only available upon request. Upon inquiry, Richard Brierley, Christie's auction director said he thought it would sell in excess of $120,000 (the auction index average is $125,520) The sale has some rather unusual lots as well, including a Château Gruaud-Larose 1922 at $3,000 to $5,000, a Château Lagrange 1928 at $2,500 to $4,000 and a Château Montrose 1925 at $1,200 to $1,800. The famed Château Palmer 1961 is estimated at $20,000 to $30,000 (the index average is $32,436). One of the more unusual lots in the evening sale is the only existing salamanazar—the equivalent of 12 bottles—of Ornellaia 2005 estimated at $10,000 to $20,000. The proceeds will benefit the Baptistery Project of the Friends of Florence, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the protection, restoration and preservation of Florence's artistic and architectural masterpieces. The winning bidder will also get a three-day stay at Ornellaia, at which time the salamanzar will be presented at the estate.
Other highlights include a 78-bottle DRC superlot from the 1999 vintage estimated at $70,000 to $100,000 and a 90-bottle superlot entitled the "Stars of (Bordeaux) 2000," which includes a case each of all the first-growths plus a dozen bottles each of Châteaus Ausone, Cheval-Blanc and Pétrus, with the total lot valued at $55,000 to $80,000. Rhône lovers can revel in a 36-bottle vertical from E. Guigal spanning 1990 to 2001, estimated at $10,000 to $20,000.
Worth the Investment?
Given the elevated prices, can a collector ever expect a return on investment during his lifetime? One of the most telling lots in the NYWinesChristie's sale is a double magnum of Lafite 1865 that hailed from the celebrated Scottish cellars of Lord Rosebery (his mother was a Rothschild). It was one of 15 double magnums of Lafite 1865 that originally sold at Christie's in 1967 for an undetermined price. All that is known about the auction results is that two jeroboams of Lafite 1865 commanded between $250 and $310 each.
Forty years later, the same double magnum brought $38,610 at Zachy's in May 2004 and was re-offered in November 2006 for $65,175. Still another Lafite in double magnum from the Rosebery collection fetched $111,625 at Aulden Cellars-Sotheby's in May 2006. The NYWinesChristie's lot bears an estimate of $60,000 to $90,000.
No one ever said that auctions are efficient, yet there's clearly profit potential.
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