November auction news: Chinese pander – in black and white

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  • Wednesday 3 November 2010

Howard G Goldberg looks at an auction catalogue that caters to its audience

Auction hammer

In the 1950s and ’60s, IF Stone’s Weekly, a newsletter, kept Washington on its toes. Izzy Stone, its publisher, relied deeply on close readings of public documents to anchor reporting and commentary. The same mode of sourcing and analysis illuminates the matte-gold-tinted catalogue for the second of Zachys’ 2010 Hong Kong sales (the third and last is set for 20 November).

Zachys’ fat book suggests how the New York auction house and retailer sized up the priorities of the affluent Asians gathered at the Mandarin Oriental on 11 September: they wanted the West’s best. Lot estimates were given in both Hong Kong and US dollars. A photo of Henri Jayer 1978 Burgundies decorated the front cover, another, of cases of 1989, 1990 and 1995 Pétrus, the back.

In the index of the catalogue, part-written in Chinese, Zachys catered to the country’s booming luxury-goods class by devoting about half the entries to Bordeaux and Burgundy, both red and white and in various formats. California was the second-largest category, dense with cult wines, followed by Champagne. Italy, Madeira, Port, the Rhône and Spain seemed like also-rans by comparison.

By some accounts, Asian buyers tend more to consume than cellar ‘trophy’ wines. So, up front, the catalogue recommended a list of ‘immediate indulgences’. The highlighted choice was a bottle of Coche-Dury’s 1994 Corton-Charlemagne (estimate: US$500-US$750), which fetched $1,259.

The opening lot sounded the theme: 12 bottles of 1961 Lafite-Rothschild (e: $8,500-$12,000). It brought $18,890.
Attentive to Asians’ relative inexperience in the rare- and fine-wine sphere, Zachys named a gilt-edged consignor, Bacchus Partners’ Fine Wine Appreciation Funds – an investment partnership that seeks wines ‘with the most impeccable provenance’. Its 201 lots opened with one bottle of 1945 Cheval Blanc (e: $1,200-$1,800), which fetched $1,732.

Usual suspects figured into the auction’s top earners. Six bottles of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti’s 1990 Romanée-Conti (high estimate: $90,323) fetched $75,561. Two 12-bottle lots of 1982 Lafite ($49,032) each sold for $59,819, a third for $56,671 and a fourth for $50,374. A case of DRC’s 1990 La Tâche ($49,032) brought $50,374.

Auction director Julia Gilbert said that expecting a demand for lesser known, less expensive Burgundies, a consignor (whom the catalogue characterised as ‘an avid scholar of Burgundy’) ‘keenly culled’ selections that ‘performed quite well’. A case of Denis Mortet’s 1996 Lavaux-St-Jacques Gevrey- Chambertin (e: $600-$900) found $1,574. Six bottles of Robert Groffier’s 1999 Bonnes Mares ($900-$1,300) brought $1,417. And 24 bottles of Michel Niellon’s 1999 Chassagne-Montrachet (e: $600-$900) attracted $1,338.

Evidently Zachys’ analysis worked. ‘The room was nearly full at 10am, reached a standing-room-only capacity at lunch’ – perhaps 150 people – ‘and remained well occupied through to the end,’ said Gilbert, adding that ‘Hong Kong sessions tend to be an hour or two longer than their US counterparts, but many people stayed until the very end.’
Of 902 lots offered, 879 (97.5%) sold. The low estimate for the catalogue was $3,914,090; the high, $5,951,665. The gross (including the 22% buyer’s premium) settled at $5,496,785.

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