Updated Sept. 8, 2008
The ambitious scale of September's upcoming wine auctions provides scant indication that the global economy is in a shambles with ongoing concerns about housing, credit and inflation. The sale catalogs abound with high-end treasures and hard-to-come-by bottlings, and auction houses appear confident, or at least hopeful, that fine and rare wine will buck the downturn of other luxury goods or that buyers in other countries will pick up any slack in the U.S. market.
In uncertain economic times, large-format bottles often fall out of fashion, because they must be consumed all at once and are normally reserved for festive occasions; such lots appeal to optimists or others looking ahead for the long term. But on Sept. 6, Acker Merrall & Condit sold a superlot containing 25 imperials (an imperial equals eight 750ml bottles) of Château Mouton Rothschild 1995 for a whopping $187,550, 70 percent above recent trading levels recorded in Wine Spectator's Auction Price Database for the second quarter of 2008. Another lot containing 10 imperials of Mouton 1998 brought $58,080 (up 22 percent from the average price in the auction database).
Acker is also conducting a "Fall Harvest" sale on Sept. 27, featuring the cellar of William Graves, a longstanding collector. Highlights include a scarce jeroboam of DRC La Tâche 1971, estimated at $26,000 to $35,000 (its auction average is $29,275) and two jeroboams of Château de Beaucastel Hommage à Jacques Perrin 1990, at $4,000 to 5,000 each (the average is $5,082 each). A rare case of Château Rayas Châteauneuf-du-Pape Réservé 1990 in magnum is estimated at $18,000 to $24,000; a successful bid at the low end of that estimate would represent a good deal as the database average is $22,944. (Estimates do not include the buyer's premium.) On Oct. 18, Acker is conducting a major sale from the cellar of celebrated Swiss collector Wolfgang Grunewald.
On Sept. 13, NYWinesChristie's is offering a small, but appealing selection of collectibles. One highlight is a consignment from the pristine cellars of Mähler-Besse, the highly reputed Bordeaux négociant. A case of Château du Tertre 1924 is estimated at $1,800 to $2,200, and a dozen bottles of Château Margaux 1934 is estimated at $8,000 to $12,000. (The database average for the Margaux is $9,924 per case.) Four six-packs of Dominus 1997 estimated at $900 to $1,500 fall somewhat above the database average. A case of Colgin Cariad 2002 is being offered at $3,500-5,500. The database average for the wine is $3,828.
Although U.K. auctions are not officially tracked by Wine Spectator, two upcoming sales at Christie's London deserve mention. On Sept. 15 and 18, an unprecedented 40,000 bottles of Bordeaux from the highly touted 2000 vintage will go on the block. All have been consigned by a single-owner collector who resides in Europe. He acquired the wines directly from the châteaus and placed them in professional storage. The lots range from every-day claret to top classified growths.
On Sept. 18 and 19, Zachys is offering more than 2,000 lots with a total value of $3.2 million to $4.9 million. Many of the estimates are in keeping with the auction database averages. Six bottles of Château Pétrus 2005 would be a bargain if they can be snapped up at the low to mid-range of its $18,000 to $30,000 estimate. The same is true of Château Montrose 1990, estimated at $4,000 to $6,000. There are several potential bargains on offer, including a bottle of Château d'Yquem 1937 at $3,000 to $4,800 (the database average is $4,910), a case of Giacomo Conterno Barolo Monfortino Riserva 1999 at $2,400 to $3,500 (the average is $4,116 per dozen), and a case of Gagnard-Delagrange Bâtard-Montrachet 2002 at $800 to $1,200 (the average is $1,452). A six-pack of Tenuta dell'Ornellaia Toscana Masseto 1997, estimated at $2,000 to $3,000, is also priced somewhat below the database average of $3,372.
With a pre-sale estimate of $6.9 million to $10.2 million, Hart Davis Hart's auction of the Fox Cellar in Chicago on Sept. 19 and 20 promises to be the biggest auction of the season. The consignor is a long-time client of HDH chairman John Hart. Provenance is pristine; almost every case was purchased as a future or on release. The breadth of offerings is staggering. There are 166 lots of Château Lafite-Rothschild, worth an estimated $1 million to $1.5 million, including seven cases from the prized 1982 vintage and 21 from the 1996. Also impressive are a 100-lot offering of Château Pétrus, worth an estimated $1 million to $1.5 million, and more than 1,000 bottles from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, including a case of DRC Romanée-Conti 1990, estimated at $100,000-$150,000 (the database average is $134,892). Thirteen cases of Château Cheval-Blanc 1998 are estimated at $5,500 to $8,500 (the average is $8,916 per dozen).
On Sept. 20, Aulden Cellars-Sotheby's is offering a strong cross-section of Bordeaux, Burgundy and California wines. First growths include four six-magnum cases of Château Lafite Rothschild 1966, estimated at $2,250 to $3,250 each (they would represent very good value at the low end of the estimate), and a dozen bottles of Château Haut-Brion 2000 at $5,500 to $7,500 (well below the database average of $8,628). Six bottles of Château Cheval-Blanc 1961 bear an estimate of $4,500 to $6,000, compared to the database average of $7,956 for six, indicating a potential opportunity as long as the bidding does not spiral out of control. Rare Burgundies on offer include six bottles of Armand Rousseau Clos de la Roche 1966, estimated at $3,000 to $5,000, and three bottles of Leroy Richebourg 1949 at $4,750 to $7,000.
Morrell & Co. is also hosting its first fall auction on Sept. 20. Small and succinct, it features full cases of Château La Mission Haut-Brion 1982 at $8,500-12,000 (the average is $10,692) and Château Pichon-Longueville-Lalande 1982 at $6,500-9000 (the average is $8,328). One of Morrell's signatures is an abundance of mixed lots presented as vertical or horizontal offerings. A nine-bottle vertical of Château Palmer from the 1989, 1990, 1999 and 2003 vintages is estimated at $1,300 to $1,800, and another nine-bottle offering that combines Château Lynch-Bages 1970 with Château Pichon-Longueville Comtesse de Lalande 1970, 1983 and 1996 is estimated at $1,100 to $1,400. There's also an opportunity to celebrate the 1865 harvest with a bottle of Château Lafite Rothschild 1865 (estimated at $7,000 to $11,000) and an 1865 Cognac Briand, Réserve Spéciale, Vieille Fine Champagne, Delaurière & Co.1865 ($2,400 to $3,000).
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