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Hospices de Beaune: Christie’s preview tasting

Bidders hoping for softer prices at this year's Hospices de Beaune auction, following a high sales total in 2012, could be disappointed judging by the mood during this week's preview tasting at Christie's London.

A difficult 2013 growing season and harvest means that just 443 barrels, including 333 of red and 110 of white, will go under the hammer at the 153rd annual Hospices de Beaune auction on 17 November, making it the smallest since 1981. There were 518 barrels in the sale last year.

Yet, prices at this year’s auction may not fall by as much as bidders might expect, with no let-up in demand for Burgundy among collectors.

Christie’s consultant Anthony Hanson MW confirmed continued interest from Asia. ‘We’ve seen interest from Asia climb over the past three to five years, and in 2011 Asian spend at the auction overtook US spend. The jump in prices for the top Bordeaux wines has encouraged them to look at other areas of France. Perhaps now that Bordeaux prices are dropping back, there will be more realism.’ ‘I doubt it,’ chipped in David Elswood, head of Christie’s international wine department.

Christie’s has run the sale since 2005; traditionally seen as a ‘closed shop’, it has worked hard to internationalise the auction and to make it more appealing to private individuals – by selling single-barrel lots, for instance. ‘Estimates start at EUR3,000 (US$4,000) per barrel (24 cases), so it is within the reach of many collectors, especially when a group clubs together,’ said Hanson.

But, individual collectors will be bidding against trade buyers, not to mention the odd multi-millionaire. ‘In 2012, the lots all seemed to go for well above their estimates,’ lamented one attendee of last year’s auction. ‘I went along with six lots marked, but the bids went way above my limit. It’s hard to compete with bidders like Air China, who were sitting nearby, and the Ukranian businessman who bought the President’s Lot for EUR270,000. I heard him say later that he’d sell it on next year to friends.’

Last year’s auction raised nearly EUR6m, the highest total since 2000, although the number of lots represented the smallest amount for 25 years.

‘Prices this year will likely be comparable to last year, driven up by rarity,’ predicted Hanson. Bidders can at least take comfort in the fact that all proceeds go to the Hospices, some to the upkeep of its vineyards and buildings, but most to the hospital itself.

Written by Amy Wislocki

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