|WINE & SPIRITS WITH PANACHE
Auction prices escalate along with consumer interest.
Geoff Kalish, M.D.
a 25- to 30-percent reported increase in premium-brand sales
in the past year and a strong emerging market in bottles for
less than $100, the wine auction business remains torrid.
In fact, top auction houses Christie's, Sotheby's
and Zachys project a combined total of over $100 million in
sales for 2005, exceeding the total for all bottles auctioned
just five years ago. Moreover, according to Peter Meltzer,
longtime auction correspondent for Wine Spectator,
“the wine auction market shows no evidence of an impending
dot.comlike bust or even a hint of an anticipated housinglike
Michael Davis, of the wine auction house Hart Davis
Hart, in action.
1982 Le Pin.
1969 La Tache.
Interestingly – and not surprisingly
– no one factor appears to account for the sizzling
market, but rather a fortuitous convergence of conditions.
On the buyer side, we find an increasing and maturing interest
of U.S. consumers in fine wine, particularly highly touted
vintages of First Growth Bordeaux and top-quality Burgundy,
juxtaposed on a finite and limited supply of such bottles.
In addition, increased sophistication by U.S. restaurant-goers
has led to keen competition by high-end eateries (particularly
those in New York, Chicago, Palm Beach, California and Las
Vegas) to offer prized bottles on their lists. And the past
two decades have witnessed a heightened awareness of wine
and consumption in North America, allowing for the rapid
growth of an auction market in ready-to-drink everyday wines
in the under-$100-a-bottle price range.
Adding to the popularity of wine auctions
and, as a boon to new collectors, three or four bottles and
mixed cases of bottles in a particular category are becoming
more commonplace at a number of events (especially those
held by Edward Roberts International, Hart Davis Hart and
Acker Merrall & Condit). Buyers also seem to be drawn
to the many auctions and pre-auction tasting events held
at dining establishments such as Daniel and Cru in New York
City and the restaurant at the Chicago Yacht Club.
On the seller side, the traditional reasons
for wine to be placed on the auction market – death,
debt and divorce – remain strong. Additionally, rather
than transport large quantities of wine to a new home,
a growing number of retirees continue to offer part or
all of their collections for sale. And adding to both
the selling and buying sides of the equation are the changing
of interests among a number of major collectors, who have
started to “thin
out” their well-stocked cellars of one type of wine
to purchase another (for example, placing older First Growth
Bordeaux or vintage port on the market to generate funds
to buy rare burgundies).
Based on discussions with a number of
leading auction houses, upper-end Burgundy (such as 1985 Domaine
La Romanée-Conti) and 1961 First Growth Bordeaux (such
as Château Latour) remain the most sought-after bottles,
fetching amounts that continue to exceed pre-auction estimates.
Other price trendsetters include the highly touted 1982 and
1990 First Growth Bordeaux (particularly Château Lafite-Rothschild),
as well as 1963 and older vintage port. And, recently, cult
California Cabernet Sauvignons (especially 1994 and 1997 Bryant
Family, Harlan Estate and Screaming Eagle) have garnered bids
usually only seen for old-world bottles. Good activity (as
well as notable bargains) can also be found in less expensive
bottles from Priorat in Spain and Piedmont and Tuscany in
Curiously, highly touted 1995 and 1996
First Growth Bordeaux have received mixed results, and the
reception for the critically acclaimed 2000 First Growth
Bordeaux has been cool. “Probably too early for these,”
note John Kapon of Acker Merrall & Condit and Paul Hart
of Hart Davis Hart. Also, the market has been definitely
cold for so-called California collectible Cabernet Sauvignons
like BV Private Reserve, Mondavi Reserve and Heitz Cellar.
And the results for legendary Château d'Yquem
are variable, with bottles sometimes selling for amounts
far exceeding the pre-auction estimates and at other times
receiving few bids.
Before You Go
You can find bargains at any of the
many wine auctions, most of which take place in the spring
and fall (see fall auctions at right). In fact, savings of
30 to 35 percent from retail prices are not unusual. However,
achieving favorable results generally requires advance comparison
of current retail cost to the anticipated auction price, listed
in the pre-auction brochure (wineseeker.com is a
good resource.) Also, you should take into account the usual
15- to 17-percent buyer's premium and applicable taxes
when calculating the final charge.
For older vintages, consider the fill level
of the bottle (usually listed in the pre-auction brochure).
Generally, Bordeaux-style bottles with “low shoulder”
(or below) fill levels indicate poor condition of a wine.
And finally, some sage advice is to only buy what you would
consider drinking, since history has taught that all markets
Kalish, M.D., has been writing about wine, food and travel
for more than 25 years, and has lectured in the U.S. and internationally
about matching wine with food
Image 1: Laura Brown, Image 2 and 3: Christie's Images