For the first time since 1999, worldwide sales of fine and rare wine at auction topped the $100-million mark. According to year-end figures released by the major auction houses, wine sales totaled nearly $109 million in 2004--a 13 percent increase over 2003. Internet wine auctions brought in an additional $18.5 million.
New York auctions accounted for the largest share of revenues, with a combined total of almost $65.2 million, up 24 percent from 2003. In contrast, London auctions brought in about $24.2 million, down 7 percent.
Nationally, Zachys grabbed the lead for the first time since entering the auction arena independently two years ago. Its $26 million in sales was followed by Acker Merrall & Condit with $17 million, NYWinesChristie's with $14.7 million and Aulden Cellars-Sotheby's with $12.6 million.
Christie's was the leading auction house worldwide. Its European sales, including $16-million worth of wine in London, pushed its total to just more than $36 million, a 17.5 percent increase over its 2003 total. Sotheby's sold almost $8.2 million-worth of fine wine in London, bringing its worldwide total to just less than $21 million, down 14 percent from the previous year.
On the Web, Winebid.com was the leader, with $16 million in sales.
An increase in the value and volume of consignments accounted for the uptick in auction revenues. Throughout 2004, the auction record book was constantly rewritten as pristine consignments of impeccable provenance went on the block. In June at NYWinesChristie's, the private cellar of Doris Duke grossed nearly $3.8 million and every lot was sold. The top lot was a case of DRC Romanée-Conti 1934 that fetched $111,625. In October, a dozen bottles of 1978 Romanée-Conti sold for $88,125.
In May, a record $76,375 was paid at Aulden Cellars-Sotheby's for a case of Château Cheval-Blanc 1947. In November, a 130-liter bottle of Beringer Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Private Reserve 2001--dubbed "the largest bottle of wine in the world"--sold for $55,812.
Zachys made headlines this fall, first at its debut Los Angeles auction, where a bottle of Château d'Yquem 1847 sold for a staggering $71,675--the highest price ever realized for a bottle of white or dessert wine worldwide. Then in December, at a sale that realized nearly $4.8 million, a superlot of DRC Romanée-Conti 1999 (consisting of one methuselah, one jeroboam, six magnums and 12 bottles) was snapped up by an anonymous collector for a whopping $211,500.
Almost lost in the litany of record prices was the fact that numerous case-lots of mature, good-quality wines could be had for less than $500, and often below their retail prices.
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