In the third quarter of 2013, the Wine Spectator Auction Index, which tracks sales of commercial wine auctions in the United States, barely budged from its second quarter 2013 close, rising a mere 0.55 points from 314.43 to 314.98. But auction action was not entirely flat. In fact, after two months during which virtually no auctions took place, bidders returned to the salesrooms in September with a voracious appetite for select collectibles—but only if the provenance was right.
At Acker Merrall & Condit in New York, six bottles of Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Santo Stefano di Neive Riserva 1990 fetched $7,380 (inclusive of the buyer’s premium), 146 percent above the Auction Index average. A case of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti La Tâche 2008 brought $29,520 (up 29 percent). According to Acker CEO John Kapon, “The market looks to be off to a red-hot start this fall, and we expect the momentum to carry well into 2014.”
At Zachys’ New York auction in September, a consignment from Dr. Aziz Khan—a meticulous West Coast collector who kept receipts for virtually every bottle he bought—fetched $1.7 million, well over the pre-sale high estimate of $1.2 million. Four bottles of the celebrated Château Latour 1945, estimated at $8,000 to $12,000, brought $61,250 (up 500 percent). Eight bottles of Château L’Évangile 1947, with a high estimate of $20,000, sold to an anonymous telephone bidder for $245,000.
It was a similar scene at Sotheby’s New York, where a consignment from Little Rock, Ark., investment banker Warren A. Stephens, whose passion for large-format bottles is well known, went on the block. A magnum of Château Haut-Brion 1961 estimated to bring $2,500 sold for $4,594. An imperial of Château Margaux 1983 estimated at $2,750 fetched $7,350.
At Hart Davis Hart in Chicago, demand for Burgundy was particularly strong. A case of Domaine Dujac Clos St.-Denis 1990 set a world record, surpassing its pre-sale high estimate of $14,000 to achieve an aggregate of $22,705. A dozen bottles of Armand Rousseau Chambertin 1996 also sold above estimate, bringing in $19,120. “I believe that consignors will be encouraged to bring wines to auction this fall and winter,” said HDH CEO Paul Hart.
At Christie’s Hong Kong in late August, 94 percent of the offerings from Château Pétrus sold above the high estimate. Christie’s also sold a small parcel of wine in Shanghai in September for the first time as part of a broader auction that included jewelry and fine art. “The number of wine bidders from China grew by 1,550 percent from 2008 to 2012 at Christie’s,” said wine department head Simon Tam. “Chinese wine collectors are particularly discriminating when it comes to building their collections.”
During the third quarter of 2013, 6,329 lots at domestic sales brought $19.2 million, compared to 7,578 lots for a total of $17.4 million in the third quarter of 2012, an increase in value of nearly 20 percent. Hong Kong results were softer, however. In the third quarter of 2013, 3,373 lots sold for an aggregate value of $19.3 million compared to 2,997 lots totaling $20.1 million in the third quarter of 2012. Despite the modest decline, the current average price per lot in Hong Kong was a hefty $5,722 this quarter, compared to $3,027 in the United States.
Domestically, Zachys led the pack, with $6.2 million in sales, followed by Hart Davis Hart, with $5 million. In Hong Kong, Acker bested the competition with $6.4 million in sales. Percent-sold rates remained a strong 95 percent in both locations.
As a category, red Bordeaux—which constitutes the lion’s share of lots offered at auction—declined 2 percent overall. 1995 Bordeaux proved the strongest vintage, rising an average of 5 percent. Château Lynch Bages 1995 gained 42 percent to average $194 per bottle, and Château Haut-Brion 1995 climbed 26 percent to average $412 per bottle. Collectors managed to snap up a few bargains, including Château Montrose 1982 at $102 per bottle and Château Trotanoy 1966 at $184, both down 59 percent.
In contrast, red Burgundies and Rhônes, which are tracked separately from the Auction Index, performed better. The former rose 7 percent, the latter 4 percent. Domaine de la Romanée-Conti Richebourg 1934 achieved the highest price in the third quarter, averaging a record $64,313 per bottle. Domaine Leroy Clos de Vougeot 1996 rose 35 percent to average $776.
Among the Rhônes, M. Chapoutier Ermitage Le Pavillon 1990 jumped 108 percent to average $424 per bottle, and Henri Bonneau & Fils Châteauneuf-du-Pape Réserve des Célestins 1998 climbed 79 percent to average $539. Paul Jaboulet Aîné Hermitage La Chapelle 1996 rose 51 percent to average $113 per bottle.
Premium California wines, meanwhile, rose 5 percent, led by Dominus Estate 1990, which climbed 27 percent to average $121, and Opus One 1997, which went up 20 percent to average $299. Among California cult wines, Bryant Family Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2002 soared 79 percent to average $390 per bottle, and Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon 1997 gained 16 percent to average $4,193 per bottle.
The Vintage Port category witnessed some major price swings. Graham Vintage Port 1970 rose 150 percent to average $55 per bottle, whereas Fonseca Vintage Port 1977 fell 73 percent to a bargain price of $43 per bottle.
Italian estate wines rose 3 percent. Tenuta San Guido Sassicaia 1985 bucked the trend, rising 35 percent to average $1,673 per bottle, and Tenuta dell’Ornellaia Bolgheri Ornellaia 1997 rose 16 percent to average $266.
In other auction news, Wally’s Auctions of Los Angeles and Crush Wine & Spirits of New York announced their “Inaugural Auction,” to be held in New York on Nov. 13 at the Whitney Museum of American Art. The sale catalog includes over $3 million worth of fine and rare wines and will feature a seated dinner for registered bidders.