Move Over Bordeaux: Burgundy Steals the Show at Asia Auctions

Recent sales lead top auctioneers to wonder if Bordeaux may be toppled as the premier blue-chip collectible
Nov 29, 2011

At recent auctions conducted by the major commercial auction houses, expensive rare Burgundy has become the star of the salesroom, despite major volatility in world financial markets.

"While Bordeaux prices have moderated in recent months, Burgundy has taken off," said Hart Davis Hart CEO Paul Hart. "Lafite was the world's hottest label earlier in the year, but it now appears that DRC may hold that title. Six of the top 10 lots exceeding the high estimate at our Oct. 29 auction were either DRC assortment cases, Romanée-Conti or La Tâche."

Hart’s remarks were echoed by John Kapon, Acker Merrall & Condit’s CEO, who Nov. 4 and 5 sold a staggering 14,000 bottles of Burgundy in Hong Kong (on the heels of a 7,000-bottle offering in New York) from the famed collection of Don Stott, a former Wall Street specialist. “The enthusiastic market response attests to the robust demand for the very best Burgundies both in Hong Kong and New York,” Kapon said “The results also prove that Chinese wine lovers have diversified their taste in wine appreciation and collecting. It just goes to show how much the market can still develop and grow in Asia, and why I keep saying this is just the beginning. Bordeaux will always be the king of the fine-wine market due to quantity, but it is nice to see its queen recognized accordingly.”

What’s top on the buyers' wish lists? Apart from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti wines, there’s Henri Jayer, Georges Roumier, Domaine Dujac, Louis Jadot, Domaine Leroy, Armand Rousseau, Comte Georges de Vogüé, Domaine Ponsot, Domaine Leflaive and Emmanuel Rouget, all of which have achieved record prices in recent sales. Vintages in demand include 1985, 1990, 1993, 1996, 1999, 2002 and 2005.

As a category, the 102 Burgundy listings tracked by the Wine Spectator Auction Index rose 16.42 percent from the third quarter of 2010 to the third quarter of 2011. Many wines fared even better. Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Romanée-Conti 1996 was up 114 percent to average $13,310 per bottle, G. Roumier Bonnes Mares 1985 was up 90 percent to average $2,681 per bottle and Joseph Drouhin Montrachet Marquis de Laguiche 1996 was up 41 percent, averaging $462 per bottle.

There are many reasons behind Burgundy’s escalating popularity. Limited supply contributes to Burgundy’s appeal. “The quantities of great Burgundies on offer are so small that we never get much to sell,” noted Sotheby’s wine CEO Jamie Ritchie. “By value, in 2010, only 17 percent of the wines we auctioned were from Burgundy. The realization that these wines are extremely scarce has created a new-found appetite.”

Why has there been such a significant outpouring of major Burgundy consignments over the past year? Apart from the appreciation factor, Nashville uber-collector Tom Black said most of the collectors he knows who have had large cellars are downsizing for the future. “The owner of Zachy's 5,000-bottle Burgundy consignment this past October told me he just had too much wine he would never drink. I know how he feels. I think the recent trend is both a change in taste, in life and in needs.”

Noteworthy Sales

• Sotheby’s Hong Kong, Oct. 1 & 2. The top lot was a case of DRC Romanée-Conti 1988 that brought $116,346 (48 percent above its Wine Spectator Auction Index average).

• Zachys New York, Oct. 20. A 5,000-bottle single-owner Burgundy auction sold above the presale high estimate for $3,139,551. Top earner was a jeroboam of DRC La Tâche 1971 that brought $24,400.

• Acker Merrall & Condit, Hong Kong, Nov. 4 & 5 realized $14.5 million, the highest worldwide total for any wine auction this year. The top-selling lot was a rare 12-bottle case of H. Jayer Vosne-Romanée Cros Parantoux 1990 which soared above the presale high estimate of $75,000 to fetch $93,846. Six bottles of Domaine Roumier Musigny 1978 were snapped up for $59,436 making them the most expensive items in the sale.

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