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Hong Kong Kicks off the Wine Auction Season with a Gavel's Bang

Record-setting sales bring in $34.7 million in January alone

Peter D. Meltzer
Posted: January 25, 2011

In 2010, Hong Kong overtook the United States as the world’s wine auction capital, and judging by the first four sales of 2011, it has every intention of keeping that title. Between January 21-23, a total of 2,611 lots were offered in Hong Kong by Sotheby’s and Acker Merrall & Condit, bringing in $25.5 million. Another 1,007 lots totaling $9.2 million were sold by Zachys in Hong Kong in early January. In contrast, last January a total of 1,800 lots brought $14.4 million in Hong Kong. Here, a run-down of this weekend's results.

Sotheby's Jan. 22 sale: $5.6 million

While it only had a six-hour run, the 740-lot selection from the cellars of Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber proved a smash hit. The sale far exceeded the presale high estimate of $4.1 million. Almost every lot on offer sold above estimate. While Lloyd Webber’s celebrity was certainly a draw, the pristine provenance and superb condition of his consignment were also a major attraction. This is the second time Lloyd Webber has parted with some of his “tannic pets” (as the composer likes to describe his prized bottles). In 1997, he sold 18,000 bottles worth $6 million at Sotheby’s London because he simply had accumulated more wine than he could ever drink. History repeated itself 14 years later.

Asian buyers dominated the auction, snapping up all of the top 10 lots. A case of Château Pétrus 1982 fetched $77,564 (105 percent above its current average price in Wine Spectator's Auction Index). A dozen bottles of Château Lafite Rothschild 1982 brought $58,949 (up 59 percent from its auction index average) and six bottles of DRC Romanée-Conti 1996 commanded $55,846 (up 41 percent). In a written statement, Lloyd Webber said, “I hope the new owners enjoy my wines as much as I have.”

Sotheby's Jan. 23 sale: $9 million

The highlight of the second January sale at Sotheby’s was a consignment from the Bordeaux Winebank 2000 Collection (a wine investment consortium), which brought $1.9 million, setting several records for Bordeaux from the 2000 vintage in the process. A case of Château Mouton-Rothschild 2000 sold for $27,923 (up 186 percent), a dozen bottles of Château Palmer 2000 were up 221 percent at $4,964 and 12 bottles of Château Angélus brought $5,985, up 86 percent. A case of Château Pétrus 2000 sold for $65,153 (up 71 percent). The sale’s showstopper was a 48-bottle mixed lot of châteaus Haut-Brion, Latour, Margaux and Pétrus—all from the 2000 vintage—that commanded $124,102.

Acker Merrall & Condit's Jan. 21 and 22 sale: $10.85 million

The 1,203-lot auction was the top seller of the month. “We are excited to see strong participation by Hong Kong, mainland Chinese and our Asian clients, along with numerous bidders back in America as well,” said Acker auction director John Kapon. Now that some of the best wines are being offered in Hong Kong, serious American collectors have no choice but to participate in the Far East.

A consignment from a major European cellar drew heated biding. Among the highlights were eight bottles of the scarce Henri Jayer Richebourg 1985 that realized $100,103, and an original case of DRC La Tâche 1978 that sold for $65,692 (up 53 percent). Two original wooden cases of 1982 Château Lafite Rothschild “purchased upon release and still in their original tissue paper,” fetched $75,076 each (up 102 percent).

“As strong as the 2010 auction season was,” observed Kapon, “It seems that 2011 has already exceeded the benchmark set last year.”

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