Log In / Join Now

Auction Index Flat in First Quarter Despite Lively Sales Activity

California and Burgundy collectibles make inroads in popularity

Peter D. Meltzer
Posted: April 12, 2012

Are California wines back in fashion? Recent auction activity would suggest so. As a category, California cults and blue chips fared best in the first quarter, with a Wine Spectator Auction Index increase of 11 percent. After years of Bordeaux dominating the headlines, California wines may be making a stealth comeback.

As a whole, the Wine Spectator Auction Index, which tracks sales at fine wine auctions in the United States, fell a modest 0.44 percent from 333.5 points to 332.05 points in the first quarter of 2012. By comparison, the S&P 500 and the Dow Jones, respectively, posted 12 percent and 8 percent gains. Domestically, nine auctions comprising 8,897 lots went on the block for an aggregate value of $27 million. That equates to an average price per lot of $3,029, down from $3,819 during the same period last year. Average percent-sold rates stood at a healthy 96 percent, off a fraction from 2011.

Once again, Hong Kong wine auctions eclipsed their U.S. counterparts by a significant margin in the first quarter of 2012. Seven sales consisting of 6,449 lots brought in a total of $42 million. The average price per lot in Hong Kong amounted to $6,477—more than double the U.S. average—yet down 24 percent from 2011. One explanation for the decline is that Hong Kong collectors have become acutely more price sensitive than they were a year ago. In consequence, aberrant prices for first-growth Bordeaux have receded.

Classified Bordeaux sales in the U.S. fell 1 percent in value. The 2000 vintage was down 5 percent and 1990 was down 6 percent. The 1995 vintage rose 6 percent, spearheaded by Château Pétrus, which gained 21 percent to average $2,098 per bottle. Château Cos-d’Estournel 1989 advanced 51 percent to average $230 per bottle.

Elsewhere, Rhône wines fell 5 percent. Vintage Port was soft, falling 14 percent, largely because of a precipitous 38 percent decline in Taylor Fladgate 1970, which dropped to $108 per bottle. Piedmontese listings were down 8 percent, whereas Tuscan bottlings were up 7 percent.

Burgundy’s recent surge was evident at Christie’s Hong Kong auction of the private cellar of famed winemaker Henry Jayer. The $8.5 million sale total surpassed the high estimate by more than $5 million. The average price per lot was a staggering $83,443. Top lot was a case of Vosne- Romanée Cros Parantoux 1985 that sold for $265,147 (362 percent above the index average). Other highlights included two magnums of Richebourg 1985 that brought $218,357 (up 435 percent) and three bottles of Richebourg 1978 that fetched $202,760 (up 27 percent).

Another world record was set at Acker Merrall & Condit’s New York auction in March, where a jeroboam of DRC Romanée-Conti 1999 sold for a hefty $73,200. The most expensive lot in the quarter was a case of the celebrated 1945 Château Mouton-Rothschild, sold privately to a Hong Kong buyer before Acker Merrall & Condit’s March 30 and 31 Hong Kong auction for $217,949.

Zachys led domestic auction houses with $9,221,542 in first-quarter sales, followed by Hart Davis Hart at $7,471,092 and Acker at $5,612,610. In Hong Kong, Acker led the pack with $16,047,344, followed by Christie’s at $8,511,288.00 and Sotheby’s at $8,248,506.

Jamie Ritchie, CEO and president of Sotheby’s Wine Americas & Asia, feels prices will firm up in the next quarter. “The domestic market is resurgent, bolstered by U.S. and South American buyers. I also think collectors are going to be more aware of provenance and condition than ever, which is a good thing.”

Would you like to comment? Want to join or start a discussion?

Become a WineSpectator.com member and you can!
To protect the quality of our conversations, only members may submit comments. Member benefits include access to more than 315,000 reviews in our Wine Ratings Search; a first look at ratings in our Insider, Advance and Tasting Highlights; Value Wines; the Personal Wine List/My Cellar tool, hundreds of wine-friendly recipes and more.

WineRatings+ app: Download now for 340,000+ ratings.