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Spring Auction Roundup: Provenance Prevails

Zachys sales brings in $4 million; old vintages at Christie's Latour sale broke world records.

Peter D. Meltzer
Posted: June 25, 2003

Sellers dug deep into their cellars this May, consigning roughly 8,600 lots of fine and rare wine worth in excess of $13 million to global salesrooms. Bidders responded enthusiastically, and average percent-sold rates hovered in the high 80s. But the real auction action took place when wines of impeccable provenance went on the block.

Foremost was the Latour collection, offered at Christie's London by François Pinault, who is the owner of both Château Latour and the auction house itself. Described by Christie's as "the finest single consignment of estate-sourced Latour ever to appear at auction," the 193 lots brought in $738,000 and were 95 percent sold.

World record-breakers included a case of 1928 and a case of 1929 Latour, each of which commanded $44,908 (66 percent and 238 percent, respectively, above the first quarter 2003 Wine Spectator Auction Index). A case of six magnums from the classic 1961 vintage also fetched $44,908, and a dozen bottles of 1961 sold for $55,682 -- a whopping 268 percent increase from the wine's index average.

Another record was registered at Zachy's in New York, which boasted the highest sale total for the calendar year: $4,042,647. That's no surprise given a catalog that resembled a small telephone book brimming with listings of fine and rare wine. Six bottles of DRC Romanée-Conti 1990 brought $25,520, up 5 percent, and a case of Quinta do Noval Nacional 1963 was snapped up for $19,720, down 9 percent.

Other highlights of May's auction frenzy included 10 bottles of DRC Montrachet 1978 that went for a relative bargain -- $17,035 (nearly half its index average) -- at Aulden Cellars—Sotheby's in New York. At NYWinesChristie's, six magnums of Heitz Cellars Martha's Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 1974 brought $10,575, up 36 percent, while at Bonham's & Butterfields, 12 bottles of Heitz Martha's 1974 fetched $4,888, down 24 percent.

Rare Rhônes and Burgundies also caught collectors' fancy. At Acker Merrall & Condit in Los Angeles, the winning bid on a case of Claude Dugat Charmes-Chambertin 1996 hit $15,080, more than double its index average, and a single bottle of scarce Roger Sabon & Fils Secret de Sabon Châteauneuf-du-Pape 1998 commanded a hefty $1,624.

However, the auction market continues to polarize when younger vintages go on the block. John Kapon, Acker Merrall's auction director, said, "Bidding on older wines was out of control. … The market is extremely healthy in the 10-years-or-older segment. However, the market for wines five years of age or younger is lukewarm.

"People are not willing to ante up for wines that are not highly collectible, especially as more and more of these wines are initially available at retail," continued Kapon. "Anyone who contemplates investing in these wines to make a quick profit is finding that there is little profit to be had, and hence they do not have to buy the young wines at auction."

While demand for pristine examples of older vintages may be getting a bit out of hand, ample buying opportunities remain for recent releases or off vintages -- provided the reserves aren't prohibitive.

Latest Auction Results

  • Morrell & Co. (New York): May 3 -- $962,797 total -- 1,483 lots -- 70% sold
  • Zachys (New York): May 8—10 -- $4 million total -- 2,079 lots -- 93% sold
  • Acker Merrall & Condit (Los Angeles): May 10 -- $1.8 million -- 1,450 lots -- 83% sold
  • Aulden Cellars—Sotheby's (New York): May 16—17 -- $1.7 million total -- 1,439 lots -- 82% sold
  • Bonhams & Butterfields (San Francisco): May 17 -- $824,000 total -- 1,464 lots -- 90% sold
  • Edward Roberts International (Chicago): May 17 -- $361,264 total -- 383 lots -- 92% sold
  • Christie's (London): May 22 -- $1.5 million total -- 667 lots (including Latour) -- 83% sold
  • NYWinesChristie's (New York): May 28 -- $1.5 million -- 1,121 lots -- 86% sold
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