Sotheby’s $2.5 Million Bordeaux Sale Boosted By Lower Estimates

Chateau Lafite-Rothschild 1982
A case of Chateau Lafite-Rothschild from the 1982 vintage. It sold for 32,200 pounds at an auction of a private collection of Bordeaux wines at Sotheby's in London on Jan. 25. Another case sold for $33,460 at Hart Davis Hart in Chicago on Dec. 8. Source: Sotheby's via Bloomberg

A collection of mature top-name Bordeaux fetched $2.5 million in London in the latest test of auction demand for fine wines.

The sale was 95 percent successful by lot, according to Sotheby’s, which said it “breathes fire into the wine market” at the start of the Chinese year of the dragon. Still, dealers noted yesterday that the total raised was close to auction-house forecasts, and the selling rate was helped by lower estimates.

Asian demand for prestige wines has cooled, leaving prices 20 percent down on the market highs of mid-2011. In this week’s sale, Sotheby’s was offering more than 6,000 bottles, ranging in vintage from 1953 to 1995, from the holdings of an unidentified European client.

“The wine market remains volatile, though it’s leveling out,” Miles Davis, partner at Wine Asset Managers LLP, said in an interview. “It’s following the classic pattern of a 20 percent decline after a global shakeup.”

The presale estimate at hammer prices was 1.5 million pounds ($2.3 million). Though private collections tend to fetch optimum auction prices, the final hammer total was 1.4 million pounds, or 1.6 million pounds with fees included.

The 665-lot sale followed a year in which the benchmark Liv-ex Fine Wine 100 index (LIVX) declined 15 percent. Asian buyers, who have dominated the international auction market since 2008, were unwilling to pay ever-higher prices for status labels such as Chateau Lafite, Latour and Petrus.

Older Vintages

“The market for these older types of wine seems to have stabilized,” Stephen Mould, Sotheby’s London-based senior director, said in an interview. “At this level, the prices seem to be holding, if the bottles are in good condition. We weren’t offering a lot of younger vintages.”

U.K.-based traders, sensing an opportunity to buy stock at an attractive price, captured the seven most valuable lots on Jan. 25. The most expensive was a 12-bottle case of Chateau Petrus from the highly rated 1982 vintage. This sold for 39,100 pounds with fees, against a low estimate of 36,000 pounds.

In June 2011, when Asian buyers were still paying records at auction, a case of the same wine sold at Sotheby’s London for 59,800 pounds.

Case prices for the 1982 vintage of Chateau Lafite -- Asia’s favorite fine-wine label -- were also at least 20 percent down on mid-2011 highs.

Lafite Case

A case of Lafite 1982 sold for 32,200 pounds including fees at Sotheby’s, at the top end of its presale estimate, compared with the 40,640 pounds fetched by a similar case at Acker Merrall & Condit in Hong Kong in May.

U.K. bidders bought 58 percent of the lots. Asians took 29 percent. In 2011, two-thirds of all the lots valued at more than 10,000 pounds at Christie’s auctions in the U.S., Europe and Hong Kong fell to Asian bidders, according to David Elswood, the company’s London-based head of wine.

“There’s still plenty of demand in Asia,” Davis said. “They’ll be back.”

The Sotheby’s sale provided further evidence of demand for Bordeaux second-growth wines, which have attracted interest from Asian buyers as prices of the more expensive first-growths have become more volatile in recent months.

One such second growth is Leoville Las Cases, a Saint-Julien estate in the Medoc just to the south of Chateau Latour which has been a top wine producer of the region for more than 250 years. Three cases of Leoville Las Cases 1982 sold for 3,680 pounds each, above their upper estimate and close to the $6,100 achieved at an Acker auction in Hong Kong in November, while others in the sale achieved their estimated range.

U.S. Christie’s

Christie’s International also held an auction Jan. 25 in New York, selling $1.18 million of wine, with buyers taking up 96 percent of lots. The event accompanied a sale of paintings and was an addition to its regular calendar of wine auctions.

The three top Christie’s lots in New York comprised a case each of Petrus 1982 and Petrus 2000 which fetched $58,080 and $45,980 respectively, and a dozen bottles of Lafite 1982, for which a private Asian buyer paid $45,980.

The past week’s auctions in the U.K. and U.S. followed Chinese New Year sales earlier this month by Sotheby’s, Zachys, and Acker, Merrall & Condit in Hong Kong, which taken together brought in a total of $22.4 million. Acker was also scheduled to hold a sale in Chicago before the end of January.

The total so far this year compares with $36.9 million sold by the same group of auction houses in January last year, when the market was more buoyant.

(Scott Reyburn and Guy Collins write about the art and wine markets for Muse, the arts and culture section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are their own.)