Wine Auction Market Opts for Quality over Quantity in Third Quarter

Global auction sales declined in the third quarter on slower sales in Hong Kong and London, but some lots made a big splash

Wine Auction Market Opts for Quality over Quantity in Third Quarter
These two cans of Felinfoel beer dating from 1936 were sold by Chiswick Auctions in London for $2,804. (Courtesy Chiswick Auctions of London)
Nov 4, 2019

In the third quarter of 2019, global sales of fine and rare wine at auction fell 16 percent, from $70.4 million to $59.9 million, largely because fewer auctions were conducted in Hong Kong and London compared to the same period last year. The July to September quarter is often the quietest time for wine auctions, when most houses are dormant. By comparison, the fourth quarter calendar is packed with sales.

“For [Sotheby’s] this was more to do with scheduling,” Jamie Ritchie, chairman of Sotheby’s Wine, told Wine Spectator via email. “We held three sales totaling $19 million in October, so we combined them into one series, rather than spreading them out [over several months].”

Despite the lull, U.S. sales during the third quarter rose 8 percent, from $36.1 million to $39.1 million. In contrast, Hong Kong was down to $15.5 million from $26.3 million and London decreased to $4 million from $7.9 million.

The average price per lot was $3,000 in the U.S., down from $4,500, and dropped to $2,886 from $8,789 in Hong Kong and to $1,850 from $3,022 in London. That’s not to suggest that third-quarter sales were awash with discounts. As in the previous two quarters, pristine single-owner cellars and winery-direct consignments generated heated bidding and attracted numerous record prices.

And there was a record beer can sale. In September, two cans of beer dating from 1936 were sold by Chiswick Auctions in London for $2,804, nearly double the high estimate. The beer was produced by the Felinfoel Brewery in the U.K. and originally destined for Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery’s troops in North Africa during World War II. The winning bidder was Felinfoel managing director Philip Lewis, who plans to put the cans on display at the brewery.


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Below, we analyze recent commercial wine auctions and offer a preview of fourth-quarter sales that are expected to bring in big results:

Acker

Acker made its fall debut in New York Sept. 5 and 7 with a two-day sale of 1,549 lots of fine and rare wine, which brought in more than $7 million. Their Hong Kong sale Sept. 20–21 earned another US$5.8 million. The top lot in New York was a half-case of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Romanée-Conti 2005, which was snapped up for a whopping $111,600, followed by a case of Armand Rousseau Chambertin 1999 at $62,000. Not far behind were six magnums of Pétrus 1990, which sold for $52,080. The remaining slots on Acker’s top 10 list were all filled by Burgundies. According to Acker chairman John Kapon, 36 new records were set for white Burgundy from producers such as Coche-Dury, Ramonet, Leflaive, Raveneau and Drouhin.

Bonhams

On Aug. 16, Bonhams Hong Kong sold a collection of 54 bottles from a single cask of premium Japanese whisky for $917,000, nearly double its previous auction record. Known as Hanyu Ichiro’s Full Card Series, after the acclaimed Japanese distillery of Hanyu, the collection was meant to represent each of the 54 playing cards (including jokers) in a full deck. An anonymous woman was the buyer.

Hart Davis Hart

The same week, Hart Davis Hart held a spirits-only sale in Chicago, spearheaded by a bottle of NV Macallan 65-Year-Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky, Lalique Decanter, which sold for $59,750. More affordable was a bottle of Van Winkle ‘s NV Special Reserve Straight Bourbon 12-year-old, which fetched $502. All told, 1,887 lots brought in $1.73 million and were 95 percent sold.

In late September, Hart Davis Hart conducted a massive 3,960-lot wine sale bringing in a total of $11.1 million. It was 100 percent sold and achieved the highest sale total of the quarter. More than 38 percent of lots sold above their high estimates, with many achieving record prices. Three magnums of DRC Romanée-Conti 2004 sold for $89,625. A case of Domaine Leroy Romanée-St.-Vivant 1999 fetched $65,725, as did 10 bottles of DRC La Tâche 1990.

Bordeaux fared equally well. A double-magnum of Pétrus 1990 sold for $19,120 and a case of Château Cheval-Blanc 1998 commanded a record $13,145. Not all lots fell in the five-figure range—a case of Hudelot-Noellat Bourgogne Rouge 2014 sold for $382.

Heritage Auctions

In late September, the sale of New York wine writer Mark Golodetz’s collection realized $3.1 million at Heritage Auctions in Beverly Hills. The sale totaled 1,893 lots, of which 1,776 were sold. The top sellers all hailed from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. Three bottles of DRC Romanée-Conti 2016 sold for $52,890, a half-case of DRC La Tâche 2016 brought $25,830 and a single bottle of DRC Romanée-Conti 2015 fetched $18,462. Not to be totally outdone by the Burgundies, a case of Pétrus 1974 sold for $18,450.

Sotheby’s

“Welcome to Don Stott Day,” quipped Sotheby’s auctioneer Eli Rodriguez as he ushered in the fourth part of a $25 million collection consigned by New York entrepreneur and philanthropist Don Stott, who began collecting wine in 1960 with a focus on premium Burgundies. This final offering from the cellar brought $5.9 million on Sept. 18, against a presale high estimate of $4.4 million. The top seller was a 10-bottle lot of Domaine Armand Rousseau Chambertin 1991, which soared above estimate to achieve $99,200, followed by two magnums of DRC La Tâche 1971 at $74,400 and two magnums of Domaine Georges Roumier Musigny 2005 at $68,200.

Even at the low end of the scale, prices were aggressive. Two bottles of Joseph Drouhin Musigny 1978 estimated at $2,000 to $3,000 sold for $8,680 and three bottles of Domaine Leflaive Bienvenues Bâtard-Montrachet sold for $9,920 against a high estimate of $2,600.

Zachys

Zachys held back-to-back sales on Sept. 19 and 20, showcasing two single-owner consignments from Chicago and Silicon Valley, respectively. Together the auctions realized $7.3 million. The top lot from the Windy City Collection was a case of 1990 Giacomo Conterno Monfortino Barolo, which sold for a record $32,110. Next was a two-bottle lot of Leroy Musigny 2006, which brought $27,170, followed by two bottles of Leroy Musigny 1991 at $22,230.

Of the top 10 lots offered from the Silicon Valley Cellar, all but one was from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. A magnum of DRC La Tâche 1971 sold for $32,110, a new high for the wine, and a magnum of DRC Richebourg 1971 sold for $29,640.

Fourth Quarter Preview

The fourth quarter is typically a big one for auction houses, and the calendar for 2019 is packed. On Nov. 9, Acker Hong Kong is offering the first-ever consignment of wines direct from Jean-Louis Chave, including bottles dating to the 1920s. In addition, the firm will conduct weekly global web auctions this fall.

Christie’s/Wally’s has an online wine sale that runs from Oct. 22 through Nov. 6. Its next live sale in New York is on Dec. 13. Hart Davis Hart conducted a mobile-only auction of finest and rarest wines from Oct. 16–18 and will offer a single owner sale on Nov. 14, followed by their “Celebration of Bordeaux” auction Nov. 15 and 16. Their final wine auction of the season occurs Dec. 13–14.

On Dec. 7, Sotheby’s New York is conducting its sale of Finest & Rarest Wines. On Nov. 22–23, Zachys is conducting a sale of rare wines and spirits in Hong Kong, and an upcoming holiday auction on Dec. 6–7 in New York.

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