Cheval Blanc, Chateau d’Yquem Test Demand in $2 Million Sales

A 1774 bottle of
A 1774 bottle of "Vin Jaune." Made in the Jura region of France, and still drinkable, it will be included in an auction of fine and rare wines to be held by Christie's International in Geneva on May 15. Source: Christie's Images Ltd. 2012 via Bloomberg

A 238-year-old bottle of white wine and collections of Chateau Cheval Blanc and Chateau d’Yquem valued at as much as $2 million are among the highlights of a spring series of auctions that will test demand at the top of the international market.

Wine sales at the five biggest auction houses have raised $94 million so far this year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg News. That’s down about 25 percent from last year on a monthly average basis at Acker Merrall & Condit, Sotheby’s, Christie’s International, Zachys and Hart Davis Hart.

Asian demand for first-growth Bordeaux has cooled after record prices were paid for Chateau Lafite-Rothschild in 2011. Christie’s found buyers for just 74 percent of the lots in Hong Kong on April 21. Chinese bidders were reluctant to bid on Bordelais wines from plentiful recent vintages, preferring to compete for low-yield rarities from Burgundy.

“Asia has become more selective,” David Elswood, Christie’s international director of wine, said in an interview. “They’ll only pay top-dollar prices for rarities and are no longer prepared to pay extra for wines that are freely available elsewhere in the trade.”

Five 12-bottle lots of Lafite 2008 with low estimates of HK $95,000 ($12,243) were among the casualties in Hong Kong. Two half-cases of the same wine will be offered by Christie’s in London on May 10 with minimum valuations of 3,000 pounds ($4,881) -- a 20.3 percent reduction in price per bottle.

Lower Prices

The Liv-ex Fine Wine 50 Index, which tracks the price movements of first-growth Bordeaux, declined 21.9 percent year-on-year to March 31, 2012.

Hong Kong remains the world’s leading auction center, driven by the absence of taxes and by Chinese collectors’ current thirst for prestige Burgundies.

Asian buyers are unlikely to be tempted by the 1774 bottle of “Vin Jaune” that is the stand-out lot of Christie’s May 15 sale of wines in Geneva.

Lacking a label, this bottle of distinctively yellow wine made from the Savagnin grape of the Jura region of France is valued at 40,000 Swiss francs ($44,145) to 50,000 francs. Another bottle from the same batch was tasted in 1994 and contained “flavors of nuts, spices, curry, cinnamon, vanilla and dried fruits,” according to Christie’s.

Arnault’s Wines

“It is a bit esoteric,” said Elswood. “It’s the sort of bottle that will appeal more to European collectors.”

Sotheby’s April 28 auction in New York has more than 3,000 bottles of Chateau Cheval Blanc and Chateau d’Yquem from the makers’ own cellars. Both wines are owned by Bernard Arnault’s LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton SA.

Vintages range from 1892 to 2009. A magnum of Cheval Blanc’s 1947 vintage -- one of the most celebrated wines of the century -- is pitched at $30,000 to $50,000. A 12-bottle case of d’Yquem 1967 is priced at $20,000 to $30,000.

With Asia becoming more price-sensitive to Bordeaux, Sotheby’s has promoted the sale in Latin America with events in Sao Paolo, Rio de Janeiro and Mexico City.

U.S. auctions planned during the coming months include sales by Christie’s and Sotheby’s in New York, both on May 12, and Hart Davis Hart in Chicago on May 11 and May 12.

Economy Watched

“People are sitting on their hands at the moment,” Miles Davis, partner in London-based Wine Asset Managers LLP, said in an interview. “They’re keeping an eye on the global economic scene.”

His company’s latest monthly report described the market as “a little quiet” in March, with buyers preoccupied by the en primeur tastings of the 2011 vintage in Bordeaux.

So far, critics and brokers have been underwhelmed by the region’s drought-hit 2011s.

“This vintage will be a success if it is marketed quickly and at much lower prices than the last two vintages, and certainly no higher than the current market levels for 2008,” the Wine Asset Managers report said.

Lafite 2011 is currently quoted on Liv-ex at $8,710 a case, about 10 percent lower than the latest auction estimates for the chateau’s 2008s. This en primeur price is 12.1 percent lower than Christie’s latest auction minimum estimates for the chateau’s 2008 vintage before 15 percent saleroom fees are added.

(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.)

Today’s Muse highlights include Katya Kazakina previewing New York auctions, Lewis Lapham’s podcast and Jeremy Gerard on Broadway.

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