Lafite Sets Auction Wine Record at $230,000 a Bottle

Bottles of 1869 vintage Lafite sold for a record $HK 1.8 million each at Sotheby's Oct. 29 auction in Hong Kong of wines sourced directly from Chateau Lafite-Rothschild. Each was expected to fetch between HK$40,000 and HK$60,000. Source: Sotheby's via Bloomberg

Three bottles of Chateau Lafite’s 1869 vintage each sold for a record price of HK$1.8 million ($230,000) at a sale in Hong Kong last night, underlining Asia’s dominance of the auction market for trophy label wines.

All three were bought by the same Asian telephone bidder, said Sotheby’s, which offered almost 2,000 bottles of Lafite shipped directly from the cellars of the chateau in Pauillac, near Bordeaux. The 1869s -- the oldest bottles in a range of vintages that spanned 139 years -- were each estimated to sell for between HK$40,000 and HK$60,000, said Sotheby’s.

Lafite had also held the previous auction record for a single bottle of wine. Malcolm Forbes, the U.S. publisher, paid 105,000 pounds ($168,000) for a 1787 vintage engraved with the initials of President Thomas Jefferson at Christie’s International in London in 1985.

“This was a perfect storm,” Serena Sutcliffe, Sotheby’s international head of wine, said in a telephone interview after the sale. “Lafite is Bordeaux’s most starry name, the provenance gave buyers extra confidence and the timing was right.”

The auction raised HK$65.5 million with fees, against a high estimate of HK$19.5 million at hammer prices. Every one of the 284 lots found buyers.

Selling Rate

All eight of the wine sales Sotheby’s has held in Hong Kong this year achieved 100 percent selling rates, the New York-based company said. As the Asian buyer had acquired three bottles of Lafite 1869, there was a likelihood that at least one of them may be opened and drunk, dealers said.

Wines produced before the phylloxera epidemic devastated France’s vineyards in the 1870s rarely appear on the market, Sutcliffe said.

“There will be a huge curiosity to try a great pre-phylloxera vintage,” Sutcliffe said. “There’s a lot of speculation about why the Chinese like Lafite so much. People say it’s because the name is easy to pronounce in Mandarin. Actually, they like the taste, otherwise they wouldn’t pay such high prices for these wines.”

All 10 of the auction’s most expensive lots fell to Asian private collectors. A single bottle of Lafite 1870 sold for HK$1.3 million, and a 12-bottle case of the chateau’s 1982 vintage for HK$1 million, against low estimates of HK$80,000 and HK$280,000 respectively.

Lafite came top of the first official quality-based classification of Medoc wines in 1855. The chateau was bought by Baron James de Rothschild in 1868, and bottles have since been labeled Lafite-Rothschild.

(Scott Reyburn writes about the art market for Muse, the arts and culture section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)

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