In the third quarter of 2017, global sales of fine and rare wine at auction (consisting of sales in the U.S., Hong Kong and London markets) totaled $53.7 million, up 8.7 percent from last year's $49.4 million sum in 2016's third quarter.
U.S. sales totaled $30.3 million, up 9.4 percent. Hong Kong sales also rose 7.3 percent, to $17.7 million, and London increased by 9.6 percent to $5.7 million. As in the previous two quarters, pristine single-owner cellars and winery-direct consignments generated heated bidding, propelling aggregates above presale estimates.
Below, a review of U.S. wine auctions shows strong growth, and we offer a preview of fourth-quarter auctions.
Sotheby’s season opener kicked off in New York Sept. 9. The auction realized $2.7 million (inclusive of the 22.5 percent buyer’s premium) against a presale high estimate of $1.7 to $2.4 million.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the sale was its strong California content, amounting to roughly 40 percent of the lots on offer. One of the many standouts was a seven-bottle vertical of Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2003 to 2009, estimated at $10,000 to $13,000, which was snapped up for $14,700. Addressing the ever-important issue of provenance, Sotheby’s noted that the consignor, a physician in possession of a family cellar, purchased most of his collection directly from the respective wineries.
Jamie Ritchie, CEO of Sotheby’s Wine, said that there was clearly a renewed interest in older California wines. “In fact, the overall sale results indicate that the market may be moving toward more traditional pricing, where there is greater value attached to wines that are ready to drink,” he told Wine Spectator via email.
The bidding on Old World wines was equally aggressive. Three bottles of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Romanée-Conti 2003 soared above their $32,000 high estimate to bring $46,550. A case of Château Haut-Brion 1989 fetched $23,275 against a top estimate of $20,000.
Acker Merrall & Condit’s Sept. 9 sale in Manhattan realized $5.5 million (inclusive of the 23.5 percent buyer’s fee). The top seller lot was an 18-bottle lot of Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon that fetched $46,930. According to John Kapon, chairman of Acker Merrall & Condit Companies, California accounted for 15 percent of the day’s take, while Bordeaux constituted 20 percent and Burgundy made up 50 percent.
One of the sale’s featured collections was a 96-lot consignment from renowned West Coast enophile Wilf Jaeger. A six-bottle lot of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Romanée St.-Vivant 2005 estimated at $9,000 to $12,000 sold for $16,055. Another top earner was a magnum of Henri Jayer Vosne-Romanée Cros Parantoux 1993 estimated at $12,000 to $16,000 that brought $17,290.
Another consignment featured a double-magnum of Château Haut-Brion 1989 that soared over its top estimate of $8,500 to also bring in $16,055. Two rare magnums of G. Roumier Bonnes Mares Vieilles Vignes 1988 commanded $39,520.
On Sept. 8, Beverly Hills, Calif.–based Heritage auction house conducted a single-owner sale titled the "Romulus Collection" that brought $2.7 million (inclusive of the 22 percent buyer’s premium) against a presale estimate of $1.8 million. Provenance was pristine: The consignor kept invoices and receipts for virtually everything on offer, according to Heritage public relations director Eric Bradley.
“Fifty lots of DRC led the way, achieving $1.1 million against a presale estimate of $692,000,” said Heritage director of fine wines Frank Martell. The day’s showstoppers consisted of nine bottles of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Romanée-Conti 2005 that sold for $152,500 and another nine bottles from the 2006 vintage that were snapped up, well above estimate, for $146,400. A case of Domaine Leroy Chambertin 2009 fetched $58,560, also above estimate.
Hart Davis Hart’s marathon sale (totaling a hefty 3,363 lots) ran from Sept.14–16 in Chicago and was 100 percent sold. It realized $9.6 million (inclusive of the 19.5 percent buyer’s premium) against a presale high estimate of $9.2 million—the largest wine-auction total to date in 2017. The top seller was a case of Armand Rousseau Chambertin 2005 that sold above its $30,000 high estimate for $45,410. Next came three-bottle lots of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Romanée-Conti from the 1991, 2007 and 2009 vintages that each sold for $41,825.
A post-sale release noted that Bordeaux prices were robust, with the category as a whole selling above the high estimate. “Particularly strong results were seen from mature Bordeaux, including a bottle of 1865 Château Latour, which brought in $23,900 (estimated at $10,000 to 15,000)—more than any other bottle of Bordeaux offered at auction in the past year,” read a statement issued by the auction house. A collection of rye and Bourbon also proved to be a highly popular component of the auction. A bottle of Macallan 60-year-old Distillery-Bottled Single Malt Scotch Whiskey, presented in a Lalique decanter, surpassed the high estimate of $30,000 to fetch $41,825.
The auction was also notable as Hart Davis Hart's final event at Tru, a Wine Spectator Grand Award–winning restaurant and longtime fine-dining institution of Chicago. Tru closed Saturday, Oct. 7. Moving forward, the house's auctions will be hosted at Spiaggia, a Best of Award of Excellence winner with a 750-selection cellar managed by wine director Rachael Lowe.
Back in New York, Zachys’ Sept. 15–16 auction at the Best of Award of Excellence–winning Smith & Wollensky steak house brought in $8.8 million, inclusive of the 23 percent buyer’s premium.
The focal point of the sale was a 120-lot consignment from esteemed wine collector Tawfiq Khoury to benefit, per Khoury's choosing, the University of San Diego. It realized $539,048. The showstopper was a 3-liter bottle of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti La Tâche 1971, which sold for $67,650. Other gems included a magnum of Château Mouton-Rothschild from the celebrated 1945 vintage that fetched $24,600, and a single bottle of Château d’Yquem 1908 that sold for $3,936.
A selection of direct-consignment lots of Vega Sicilia winery's Único wines sent paddles flying, realizing $305,655. For example, a case of the 1953 vintage sold for $46,740 against an estimate of $18,000.
As the holiday season nears, eager wine collectors should take note of New York's major upcoming auctions.
On Oct. 21, Sotheby's features a prominent cellar benefiting Brazilian charity Instituto Solidare with 60 lots of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, including more than 100 bottles of La Tâche and four vintages of Romanée-Conti. A flurry of activity continues with auctions on Nov. 11 and Dec. 2, the former featuring the cellar of entrepreneur/restaurateur Park Smith, including many large-format Bordeaux first-growths.
On Friday, Oct. 13, Acker Merrall hosts an auction including several aged Spanish wines and a collection of Italian greats back to the 1960s and '70s. Another auction Nov. 4 brings an array of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti estimated to be worth $1 million. While the precise contents have not yet been determined, on Nov. 18 Acker is holding an auction titled "John Kapon’s Annual Birthday Bash."
The Christie's-Wally's partnership looks to their Dec. 8–9 single-owner live sale. The first-day roster includes top vintages from producers like Pétrus, Le Pin, Lafleur and DRC, while the second bolsters a wide selection of Bordeaux, Burgundy and Italian wines with Champagnes, aged Madeiras and Sine Qua Non.
Hart Davis Hart is holding its "Celebration of Bordeaux" auction on Nov. 3–4 at Spiaggia. A consignment from Château Léoville Las Cases will include a very rare, limited-edition case of varietal bottlings from the 1986 vintage, according to CEO Paul Hart.
After opening an operations base in Washington, D.C., in August, Zachys has announced it will hold a "Capital Collection" cellar auction at Best of Award of Excellence winner Charlie Palmer Steak on Oct. 27–28—the house's first in the city in 30 years. Back in New York, the first of December brings another two-day auction with offerings from Domaine Clarence Dillon, including Châteaus Haut-Brion and La Mission Haut-Brion.
Heritage hopes to continue the momentum created by its "Romulus Collection" with another blockbuster auction in Beverly Hills on Oct. 13–14. The event will offer more than 1,300 lots with highlights such as a case of Château Lafite Rothschild 1982 (estimated at $22,000–$30,000) from Tennessee Titans owner Bud Adams. Another auction follows on Dec. 1–2.