Riding on the coattails of a highly successful 2018 season, commercial auction houses pulled out all the stops in wine sales in the first half of 2019. On the block were a spate of pristine single-owner collections and rare ex-château offerings (some of which included exclusive on-premise rare wine dinners). Those temptations sent many bids soaring to record levels.
All told, global sales, culled from auctions by top houses held in the U.S., U.K. and Hong Kong, totaled $233.8 million, up 11 percent from the same period last year. U.S. sales rose 9 percent, Hong Kong rose 14 percent, and London rose 10 percent.
Zachys led the auction pack with total sales of $68.9 million. Thanks to a strong showing in Hong Kong, Sotheby's auctions placed a close second, bringing in $65 million in the first half of 2019, a 28 percent increase over the same period in 2018.
There were several firsts this season: a dedicated auction of fine and rare spirits held in Hong Kong by Acker (the firm rebranded itself from Acker Merrall & Condit in 2019) that brought in more than $1 million, and a major sale of German rarities from the collection of wine importer Rudi Wiest, also conducted by Acker, in New York. Its highlight was a case of Joh. Jos. Prüm Riesling Beerenauslese Wehlener Sonnenuhr LGK 1976, which fetched $16,120.
Here's a snapshot of auction activity in the first six months of 2019.
Last March, Zachys scored one of the wine world's most sought-after collections: 3,384 treasured bottles consigned directly from Château Lafite Rothschild in celebration of the first growth's 150th anniversary. It included ultra-scarce vintages, such as a single bottle of 1868 Lafite, offered with a dinner at the château. Estimated to sell for $13,000 to $20,000, the lot fetched a whopping $123,500. Overall, the sale realized $7.8 million, more than double the pre-auction estimate.
Also in March, Zachys' La Paulée, a two-day celebration of Burgundy, brought in $13.6 million, almost double the previous record of $7.8 million. The top lot of the day was a case of Henri Jayer Vosne-Romanée Cros Parantoux 2001, which sold for $148,200.
Christie's worldwide wine sales in the first half of 2019 amounted to $13.5 million, compared to $18.6 million in 2018. In New York, Christie's and its new auction partner Wally's conducted a small sale in June that brought $1.5 million and was 80 percent sold. The top lot of the sale was a case of Armand Rousseau Chambertin 2005 that brought $43,750.
In late March, Sotheby's Hong Kong hosted a three-day sale labeled the Tran-scend-ent, sourced from an extensive private wine collection. It brought in a record $29.8 million, prompting Adam Bilbey, head of Sotheby's Wine Asia, to remark, "The results reinforce the fact that Hong Kong is the most important auction destination in the world." One of the highlights was a 12-bottle lot of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Romanée-Conti 1990 that fetched $347,520 against a top estimate of $243,319.
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On the charitable front, Sotheby's joined forces with Château Mouton-Rothschild to auction 75 limited edition 5-bottle cases containing the 2005, 2007, 2009, 2010 and 2013 vintages of Mouton. The proceeds helped fund restoration projects at the palace of Versailles and the rebuilding of Notre-Dame Cathedral. Winning bidders will be feted to a dinner at Versailles in September where the iconic 1945 Mouton will be served. Held in London, Hong Kong and New York, the venture raised a total of $2.7 million.
Acker held its first all-spirits sale in May. "While my expertise has been deeply rooted in the world of wine, I have to say the prices collectors are willing to pay for the rarest spirits are far greater," said Chairman John Kapon in a written statement. The highest selling lot was a fitting symbol of that: a Hennessy 8 Baccarat Decanter, of which only 250 were made, sold for $76,800.
In May, Acker showcased over a half a million dollars' worth of Sine Qua Non in a New York sale. Nearly 160 lots were offered by a single consignor from the winery founded by Elaine and Manfred Krankl. Top-selling lots included six bottles of 1994 Syrah Queen of Spades that sold for $22,320. A bottle of the 1995 Rosé Queen of Hearts was snapped up for $13,640. A portion of the proceeds will benefit non-profit organizations chosen by the consignor in conjunction with the Krankls.
Hart Davis Hart
Hart Davis Hart continued its 100-percent-sold streak with four sales in the first half of 2019. In May, the firm featured its largest "Celebration of Burgundy" auction, bringing in $7.7 million in sales against a pre-auction high estimate of $7.5 million. It was Hart Davis Hart's largest Burgundy-centric auction to date, featuring wines from over 200 Burgundian domaines over two days.
A wide array of lots from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti—73 vintages dating to 1942—brought in a total of $1.8 million. A jeroboam of 2001 Romanée-Conti was snapped up above the high estimate for $95,600.
In June, Baghera Wines of Geneva (which sold the contents of the late Henri Jayer's private cellar for a record breaking $34.7 million last year) held a "Trilogy" auction of the last remaining wines from Domaine René Engel. It served as an homage to its founder, the late René Engel, as well his late son Pierre and his grandson Philippe, who tragically died in 2005. The domaine was established 100 years ago in Vosne-Romanée, and René trained some of Burgundy's top vintners, including Jayer.
The sale comprised 1,157 lots and brought in $1.8 million, at the high end of the estimate. It was 100 percent sold. Top lots included 24 bottles of Grands Échezeaux 2004, which sold for $50,500, and a 17-bottle vertical of Clos Vougeot from 1955 to 2001, which brought $36,000.
What's in store for the remainder of the year? "We think the fall season will see a lot of wine come to the market in all three locations: London, Hong Kong and New York," Jamie Ritchie, CEO of Sotheby's Wine, told Wine Spectator in an email. "We believe that mature wines from all regions will continue to see strong demand. Bordeaux looks undervalued and we expect prices to gradually rise, while Burgundy is likely to remain stable. Spirits are also likely to feature more prominently this season."
While the lineups are far from complete, it's apparent that the auction houses are already gearing up for fall. Both Sotheby's and Acker kick off the New York auction season Sept. 7. Zachys' first sale, called the Windy City Collection, takes place in New York Sept. 19–20.