Lafite to Boost U.K.’s Wine Sale Amid Austerity Drive

The U.K. government is selling $150,000 of valuable French wine as part of its austerity drive.

Six lots of Bordeaux with trophy labels such as Chateau Latour, Lafite and Petrus will be auctioned from the Government Hospitality Cellar at Christie’s International in London on March 21.

Ranging in vintage from 1961 to 1988, they have been estimated to raise as much as 65,000 pounds ($152,000) at hammer prices, the auction house said in an e-mailed release today.

“I warmly welcome this auction of wine from the Government Wine Cellar,” Foreign Office Minister Mark Simmonds said in the statement. “This is part of the process for making the cellar self-funding for the lifetime of the current parliament.”

The wine will be sold at a time when the market for France’s trophy clarets has revived after buying from China declined in early-to-mid-2012. The Liv-ex Fine Wine 50 Index, which tracks trading in the 10 most recent vintages of Bordeaux’s five first-growths, was at 321.58 on Feb. 28 after slumping to a two-and-a-half-year low of 293.10 in November.

Auctions of investment-grade wine at Christie’s and Sotheby’s in London in February registered success rates of 97 and 98 percent respectively and totals at both sales exceeded their upper estimates.

The U.K.’s Government Hospitality Cellar is located in the basement of Lancaster House, a 19th-century mansion opposite St. James’s Palace used for official receptions and banquets.

Cellar Direct

The wines being offered at Christie’s have been removed directly from the cellar, where they’ve matured after being bought young -- and at far lower prices -- from merchants, the auction house specialists said.

Six bottles of Chateau Latour from the legendary 1961 vintage is the most highly priced lot at 20,000 pounds to 30,000 pounds.

Full cases of Chateau Le Pin and Chateau Mouton-Rothschild’s 1986 vintages carry upper estimates of 10,000 pounds and 6,000 pounds. Six bottles of Chateau Petrus 1970 are also catalogued to sell for as much as 6,000 pounds. A case of Lafite-Rothschild ’88 is priced at 6,000 pounds to 8,000 pounds.

“These vintages are too valuable to drink,” Susan Crown, a Foreign Office spokeswoman, said in an interview. “It was never the intention to buy expensive wine. Their sale will help pay for the running of the cellar and the purchase of less expensive ones.”

Formal valuations of the U.K. government’s wine cellar are regularly submitted to parliament. Though these may result in further sales, high-quality French wines will continue to be poured at Lancaster House functions, Crown said.

“When President Obama comes to dinner, you can’t serve him Lambrini,” she said.

To be sure, the sale will not improve the government’s budgetary standing significantly. Britain’s debt as a percentage of gross domestic product will climb to 98 percent next year from 90 percent last year and 95.4 percent in 2013, the European Commission said in its winter forecast on Feb. 22.

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

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