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Auction news August 2011

The highlights of the first six months of trading in international salesrooms

First it was Chris ‘Lady in Red’ de Burgh whose wines sold well at auction. This time round it was time for the celebrity shine to rub off on the cellar of sir David Frost, which more than doubled its pre-sale estimate at Christie’s sale of ‘Fine and Rare wines including Treasures of sir David Frost’ on 9 June.

What is it about celebrity’s wines that make people go even pottier than usual? Do you open a bottle of 1869 Lafite for dinner guests and say ‘do you know that this once belonged to the man who interviewed Richard Nixon?’ I suppose you do.

At least there’s a good dinner party story attached to the bottle of Veuve Clicquot salvaged from a 19th century shipwreck in the Baltic sea. After spirited bidding, this particular bottle set a world record for Champagne when it sold for e30,000 ($43,630) at an Acker Merrall & Condit auction in Finland on 3 June (see Hammer Highlights, below).

It was one of two bottles from a cache of 145 recovered from a two-masted schooner. The other Champagne bottle, made by Juglar, which went out of business in the early 19th century, fetched e24,000 ($35,000).

The most anticipated sale in the first part of the year, however, was undoubtedly Christie’s eight-hour sale of 392 lots of Château Latour at Christie’s in Hong Kong on 29 May.

The auction world held its collective breath over whether Christie’s could do for Latour what sotheby’s had achieved with Lafite last year. There was initial optimism based on the very high prices paid for the three lots of six magnums from 1961, each of which sold for HK$1.8m (£140,940) – over double their high estimate of HK$850,000 (£66,000), and for the four cases of 1961, which sold for HK$1.4m each (£130,608).

David Elswood, international head of wine for Christie’s, said ‘the sale marks a triumphant result for Château Latour in Hong Kong’, and in some ways it did.

However, as Liv-ex pointed out, with lots of 2009, 2005 and 2000 generally selling below the Liv-ex mid price (hammer prices were £11,355, £8,615 and £9,395 respectively), by and large it failed to catch fire.

The fact that the provenance of these wines was impeccable – they came directly from Latour’s cellars – clearly had an impact on prices, but overall the jury remains out on whether Latour, or any first growth for that matter, can replicate the astonishing success that Lafite has achieved in Asia.

Overall, the first six months of 2011 sales finished on a high note, with Christie’s sale of Fine and Rare wines in London on 9 June realising a total of £1,084,372 ($1,780,539 / €1,216,665).

Chris Munro, director of the London wine department, said, ‘it was a tremendous finish to the first half of 2011 in London as prices show no signs of weakening’.

On the following day, his counterpart in New York, Robin Kelley O’Connor, achieved exceptional sell-through rates of 96% by lot and 95% by value, with a total of Us$1,848,768 (£1,134,618 / €1,275,468).

‘As we have witnessed all season,’ commented O’Connor, ‘the Us auction market for rare wines remains vibrant, with both private and trade buyers actively participating in our sales’.

Between New York, London and Hong Kong, the competition for the 2011 auction room crown is hotting up.

Written by Anthony Rose

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