Rare wines sourced from the cellars of Château Lafite Rothschild commanded stratospheric prices at a Zachys’ auction on March 30 at Le Bernardin Privé in Manhattan. The seven-hour sale, held to celebrate 150 years of Rothschild ownership of the Bordeaux first-growth, brought in more than $7.86 million. Zachys reported that 100 percent of the 691 lots—representing more than 3,000 bottles of wine—were sold.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to own these wines,” said Zachys president Jeff Zacharia. “Unless you buy the château, you won’t see these bottles again.”
A three-course lunch accompanied by large-format bottles of Lafite created a convivial atmosphere during the sale, with energetic in-room bidding competing with strong activity on the phones and online. Over half the wines sold to American bidders, with 13 percent going to buyers from Asia and 15 percent to European collectors.
The historic nature of the offerings—which included rare bottles of 1868, 1869 and 1870 Lafite in addition to releases from the lauded 1945, 1959, 1961 and 1982 vintages in multiple formats—was hammered home from the auction block. (The sale came just as Bordeaux prepares to introduce its newest vintage.)
Bidder interest in the top parcels was palpable. Leading the pack was an imperial (6 liters) of the 1959, which sold for $160,550, nearly twice the high estimate. Not far behind were bottles of 1868 and 1869, both of which sold for $123,500 against high estimates of $20,000 and $50,000, respectively. The winning bidder for the 1868 also scored a celebratory meal for four at the château.
A bottle of the 1870, described in the auction catalog as one of the strongest pre-phylloxera vintages, sold for $80,275, more than three times the high estimate. Of the 11 19th-century bottles on the block, 10 set auction records.
Other high-flyers included a magnum of 1925, snapped up for $86,450; two single-bottle lots of 1945, bought for a combined total of $123,500; and two full cases of 1982, acquired for $80,275 and $74,100 against high estimates of $48,000 for each.
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Recent vintages posted impressive numbers as well, with imperials of the 2009 and 2010 going for $13,585 apiece, a notch above the high estimates of $10,000. Bookending the sale were selections from other Domaines Barons de Rothschild (DBR) holdings, including Château L’Evangile in Pomerol; Sauternes house Château Rieussec; and Lafite's second wine, Carruades de Lafite.
The groundwork for the auction was set by Zacharia and the new chairwoman of DBR, Saskia de Rothschild, who took over from her father, Baron Eric, in 2018. Citing their families’ history of collaboration, Zacharia expressed interest in introducing the next generation at Lafite to the collecting market. Zachys representatives conducted in-situ analysis of the bottles in the château’s cellars and tasted through numerous vintages.
“I’ve probably drunk more Lafite in the past couple of weeks than I have in my entire life,” said Zacharia.
Older bottles were recorked at the château as required, but topped off with the same vintage in every case. The wines, affixed with auction-specific security tags and labels, were shipped in temperature-controlled containers from the château to Zachys’ facilities.
Though collector interest in mature Bordeaux from elite producers remains strong, according to Charles Antin, Zachys senior international wine specialist, feverish demand for Burgundy has overshadowed the category somewhat in the past few years. Burgundy outsold Bordeaux at Zachys in both 2017 and 2018. Last year, the house’s top 10 wine lots were all Burgundy.
Asked how the March 30 sale might influence the market moving forward in 2019, Antin drew a contrast between the 19th-century bottlings and current releases. “When we sell wine like the , it’s like selling a one-of-a-kind work of art,” he said. “For some of the more recent bottles, the auction sets a price history that could affect future prices, but for the 1868 and others like it, those wines are so rare as to be effectively outside the market.” Antin noted that only four bottles of the 1868 still remain in Lafite’s cellars, and the likelihood that they will be released to the public is exceedingly slim. “These are bottles that have lived through world wars,” said Antin. “There’s nothing else like it.”